Tag Archives: George Will

I voted for Kodos

George, "The Case for Bush" Will complains today about unconstitutional assertions of executive power.  Now you tell us, his loyal readers ought to think.  While saying a lot of things that are likely to be true–something of an issue for him of late–he makes the following assertion about claims of executive power:

When in 1952 Truman, to forestall a strike, cited his "inherent" presidential powers during wartime to seize the steel mills, the Supreme Court rebuked him. In a letter here that he evidently never sent to Justice William Douglas, Truman said, "I don't see how a Court made up of so-called 'liberals' could do what that Court did to me." Attention, conservatives: Truman correctly identified a grandiose presidency with the theory and practice of liberalism.

Hold on a second.  Could it be that Truman was wrong about liberalism and the judges were right?  Aside from that, it ought to be noted that Truman had the courtesy not to send the letter or challenge their jurisdiction.  

The Wright Stuff

As far as I know, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright does not work for the Obama campaign.  Obama has, in fact, "rejected and repudiated" some of what the good reverend has to say.  But that has no bearing on those, like George Will, who insist somehow that Wright stands for Obama:

Because John McCain and other legislators worry that they are easily corrupted, there are legal limits to the monetary contributions that anyone can make to political candidates. There are, however, no limits to the rhetorical contributions that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright can make to McCain's campaign.

Because Wright is a gift determined to keep on giving, this question arises: Can persons opposed to Barack Obama's candidacy justly make use of Wright's invariably interesting interventions in the campaign? The answer is: Certainly, because Wright's paranoias tell us something — exactly what remains to be explored — about his 20-year parishioner.

Do they now.  What would they tell us about Obama?  Will of course follows this with selected and outrageous passages from recent (post-Obama disavowal–but that's really beside the point anyway) remarks by Reverend Wright.  One of these, by the way, is the wholly obvious suggestion that something about our foreign policy has made us the targets of terrorism.  I know it has always been 

The crux of the matter, of course, is whether (1) there is any reasonable connection between Obama's beliefs and Wright's, and (2) whether Wright's beliefs are that outrageous in the first place.  

Let's take two first.  Certainly some of Wright's beliefs hinge on the conspiratorial (in case you don't know what a conspiracy is, that's like saying "global warming is a hoax" or "tax cuts produce more revenue" or "Iraq had weapons of mass destruction" or "Iran is the new Hitler" or "the world was created in six literal days a few thousand years ago" and "there is a gay agenda"–you get the idea).  But we might remember that McCain has welcomed the support of a Pastor who advocates immanentizing the eschaton in the most literal of ways.  And no one thinks McCain must believe the same thing.  Many of Wright's statements–such as the one about terrorism–seem hardly outrageous.  But it's clear in any case that Will doesn't care to have a discussion with Wright.  

He's more interested in cultivating (1) Wright's connection with Obama.  Here it is: 

He is a demagogue with whom Obama has had a voluntary 20-year relationship. It has involved, if not moral approval, certainly no serious disapproval. Wright also is an ongoing fountain of anti-American and, properly understood, anti-black rubbish. His speech yesterday demonstrated that he wants to be a central figure in this presidential campaign. He should be. 

Umberto Eco once observed, about computers, that MacIntosh is Catholic, while DOS is protestant.  With Catholicism, you're not really free to pick and choose (thus the criticism of John Kerry–why don't you agree with every last thing the Pope says?  Your disagreeing makes you dishonest!!!!); with protestantism, it's expected you pick and choose (of course John McCain doesn't have to agree with every last crazy belief of Hagee et alia–they're protestants!).  So why should this be any different for Obama?  

Besides, as far as I know, Wright's church does not have a doctrine of infallibility.  That would be crazy.


Shopworn Panaceas

A frequent question among our chattering classes is whether our children is learning.  The answer seems to be no, they isn't.  What would explain that?  George Will has the answer:

Moynihan also knew that schools cannot compensate for the disintegration of families and hence communities — the primary transmitters of social capital. No reform can enable schools to cope with the 36.9 percent of all children and 69.9 percent of black children today born out of wedlock, which means, among many other things, a continually renewed cohort of unruly adolescent males. 

If you think the solution–the only solution, the panacea, as it were–is a rise in teacher salaries then George Will is going to prove you wrong:

Chester Finn, a former Moynihan aide, notes in his splendid new memoir ("Troublemaker: A Personal History of School Reform Since Sputnik") that during the Depression-era job scarcity, high schools were used to keep students out of the job market, shunting many into nonacademic classes. By 1961, those classes had risen to 43 percent of all those taken by students. After 1962, when New York City signed the nation's first collective bargaining contract with teachers, teachers began changing from members of a respected profession into just another muscular faction fighting for more government money. Between 1975 and 1980 there were a thousand strikes involving a million teachers whose salaries rose as students' scores on standardized tests declined.

In 1964, SAT scores among college-bound students peaked. In 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) codified confidence in the correlation between financial inputs and cognitive outputs in education. But in 1966, the Coleman report, the result of the largest social science project in history, reached a conclusion so "seismic" — Moynihan's description — that the government almost refused to publish it.

We've already established that teachers' salaries have nothing to do with output, haven't we?  But lo, continuing from above:

Released quietly on the Fourth of July weekend, the report concluded that the qualities of the families from which children come to school matter much more than money as predictors of schools' effectiveness. The crucial common denominator of problems of race and class — fractured families — would have to be faced.

But it wasn't. Instead, shopworn panaceas — larger teacher salaries, smaller class sizes — were pursued as colleges were reduced to offering remediation to freshmen.

Couldn't it be, however, that smaller class sizes and higher teacher salaries are goods to be pursued regardless of their effectiveness at fixing a social problem they're not supposed to be fixing?  Who could dispute that teachers ought to be well compensated for the very important work they do (I'll exclude myself from that work–what I do is not really work)?  What parent would not want her or his child in a smaller rather than a larger class?

More importantly, where is the social scientist who would claim that paying teachers more will remedy the various social problems produced–get this–as a result of income inequality?  Indeed, while we're at the correlation game, why don't we correlate family incomes and stability with the absence of well compensated, union labor?  Since Mr.Will is so interested in quantitative social science, perhaps he might find the results so alarming he'd refuse to read them until the Fourth of July, at night.

So to sum up.  Teachers' salaries may have nothing to do with educational outputs.  But that's not why teachers should have higher salaries in the first place.  Second, the social problems kids bring to school stem in no insignificant way from economic inequalities faced by their parents.  These may come together at school, no one expects the school to solve anything but what the school can solve.   But teachers and schools ought not to be punished just because they can't solve that which they aren't suited to solve.


Judging by the number of op-eds by (ironically) elite (i.e., very rich, very educated, very isolated from the unwashed masses) writers, there’s a consensus forming around the notion of elitism: it’s bad.  Some argue that elitism is insulting; some argue that it could seem insulting; some use it to explain the Gore having "lost" the 2000 election.  By contrast, folksyism–the "wanna have a beer with" seems to be the true test of a presidential candidate.  The only people, oddly, who think this kind of nonsense are the members of the "elite" media.  

Today George Will, who makes untold thousands to give lectures to prominent law firms (Dear law firms: I’ll do it for one eighth of the price and I promise most of what I say will be true, coherent, and well established by argument) finds this elitism–I mean, liberal elitism, a bad thing.

Barack Obama may be exactly what his supporters suppose him to be. Not, however, for reasons most Americans will celebrate.

Obama may be the fulfillment of modern liberalism. Explaining why many
working-class voters are "bitter," he said they "cling" to guns,
religion and "antipathy to people who aren’t like them" because of
"frustrations." His implication was that their primitivism,
superstition and bigotry are balm for resentments they feel because of
America’s grinding injustice.

By so speaking, Obama does fulfill liberalism’s transformation since Franklin Roosevelt.
What had been under FDR a celebration of America and the values of its
working people has become a doctrine of condescension toward those
people and the supposedly coarse and vulgar country that pleases them.

"His implication" is a bit of a stretch, but let’s grant that some may reasonably be taken aback by those words.  That kind of stuff happens–and after nearly eight years of President Bush (and VP Cheney) Americans ought to be used to being offended.  But hey, we’re not going to draw any large, unjustified inferences from Bush’s malapropisms or Cheney’s meanness.  But George Will won’t can’t help himself:

The iconic public intellectual of liberal condescension was Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, who died in 1970 but whose spirit still permeated that school when Obama matriculated there
in 1981. Hofstadter pioneered the rhetorical tactic that Obama has
revived with his diagnosis of working-class Democrats as victims — the
indispensable category in liberal theory. The tactic is to dismiss
rather than refute those with whom you disagree.

You’ve got to be kidding me.  That’s exactly what Will is up to hear. 

Obama’s dismissal is: Americans, especially working-class
conservatives, are unable, because of their false consciousness, to
deconstruct their social context and embrace the liberal program. Today
that program is to elect Obama, thereby making his wife at long last
proud of America.

Hofstadter dismissed conservatives as victims of character flaws and
psychological disorders — a "paranoid style" of politics rooted in
"status anxiety," etc. Conservatism rose on a tide of votes cast by
people irritated by the liberalism of condescension.

Obama voiced such liberalism with his "bitterness" remarks to an audience of affluent San Franciscans. Perfect.

Here is what Will is trying to say: Liberals (spit spit) dismiss people as crazy rather than as merely being in the wrong.  Here’s what Will ends up saying: I dismiss liberals because they’re effete snobs (San Francicso, San Francisco) who look down on other people.

Unequal unfairness

Maryland has passed a law aimed specifically at corporations with more than 10,000 employees that fail to provide health benefits to fiscally significant portions of their workforce (and thus burden the state's real welfare system). Not surprisingly, of the four corporations that fall under the new law, only Wal-Mart falls short. According to the *Washington Post*:

Wal-Mart says that more than three-quarters of its sales associates have health insurance but acknowledged that some of its low-wage workers are on Medicaid, the state insurance program for the poor. Wal-Mart's not providing even the 21st Century version of benefits (that is to say, extremely reduced) to some of its workforce, constitutes, according to the Maryland legislature, a kind of corporate welfare; they are receiving a benefit but doing nothing to earn it. The state has to pick up the cost of Wal-Mart doing business (or figure out some other way of paying for the healthcare of those of Wal-Mart's workers and their children). Under the new law, passed over a veto, they have asked that Wal-Mart pick up the slack.

Maybe it's wrong to treat some corporate monoliths less equally than others, as George Will today writes, but the frothy eagerness with which he presses his case makes that argument hard to assess. He responds to the Maryland legislature by claiming that Wal-Mart's benefits are substantial and generous: a fact he had already denied–it's not a welfare state (i.e., a corporation that pays out benefits)–and not even Wal-Mart is willing to assert. Rather than dwell on the generosity of the benefits, or the principled view that low wage workers do not deserve benefits, Will opts for the ridiculous libertarian classic: the slippery slope:

Maryland's new law is, The Post says, "a legislative mugging masquerading as an act of benevolent social engineering." And the mugging of profitable businesses may be just beginning. The threshold of 10,000 employees can be lowered by knocking off a zero. Then two. The 8 percent requirement can be raised. It might be raised in Maryland if, as is possible, Wal-Mart's current policies almost reach it.

The dumb thing about this argument is that it's just one tweak away from being cogent. Rather than alleging that any law aimed at a corporate monolith could one day be aimed at the small businessman, Will could argue that as a matter of fairness, other employers ought to be required to bear healthcare costs.

Even dumber, however, is the claim that such a taxing of a corporate giant is somehow on par with actual illegal corruption:

 Meanwhile, people who are disgusted — and properly so — about corruption inside the Beltway should ask themselves this: Is it really worse than the kind of rent-seeking, and theft tarted up as compassion, just witnessed 20 miles east of the Beltway, in Annapolis?

No. It is not worse. The behavior of an elected body even in the perhaps imprudent exercise of its power to tax is quite unlike the demonstrably corrupt and illegal behavior of leading Republican politicians and lobbyists. Quite unlike it indeed.

State of Ignorance

The editors of *Thenonsequitur.com* would like to apologize for their rather long vacation, which they enjoyed doing their regular jobs. The editors also apologize for not posting a notice to that effect. The fact is, however, they never intended to take a vacation; it took them. But, in addition to that, they have to admit that op-eds have been much less argumentative lately. After the election, David Brooks even apologized for one of his numerous distortions of Kerry's record. And Will has taken a turn to frequent reportage. Today a wikipediaen discussion of the theory of relativity for the enjoyment of the habitues of the *Washington Post*.

Continue reading State of Ignorance