We normally try to keep current around here, but amidst the revelry and excess of our Spring Break, we missed something. Okay, we missed a few things, but George Will’s performance of March 16, on ABC’s "This Week with George Stephanopolous," is worth back-tracking a bit. Will is holding forth on matters of race and politics and then this happens:
If you want to know what America would look like, if liberals really had their way in running it, look at what they’re doing in their own nominating process on two counts. First, they cannot get to a majority because they have exquisitely refined rococo rules about how to achieve fairness. Secondly, they have worked for 20, 30, 40 years to make us all exquisitely sensitive to slights real or imagined, so that you run a 3 AM ad and someone says there’s not enough black people in it or where’s the Hispanics and it must be a racist ad. Hillary Clinton says something absolutely unexceptionable which is it took Lyndon Johnson also to pass the civil rights act. Denounced as racist. The Democrats are reaping what they have sown.
Fairness?! Equality?! Sensitivity?! Heaven forfend!
Ye gods. This logic is going to make Bright Eyes cry.
First, the primary process is to liberal governance as our making a mean Guinness stew is to operating a restaurant. Sure, it’s part of the process, but just as our Guinness stew prowess doesn’t indicate our ability to take over for Vongerichten, neither does the Democratic primary process indicate the inability of either Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton–or any other liberal politician, for that matter–to properly govern the country.
Second, snide attacks and smug elitism are no argument. Will’s tritely insulting claim about sensitivity treats as a disadvantage an awareness that has, at least in part, helped us to advance from a country where blatant displays of racism and sexism and the genocide of indigenous persons are the norm, to a country where no matter what happens, the Democratic nominee for president of the United States will be either a woman or an African American man. Without specific attempts to make people aware of the deep race and gender divides in this country, we never get to the place where Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are the nominees for President. Yet Will dismisses these effects with a wave of the hand, instead twisting liberal social policies in service of an undergraduate view of liberalism and democratic process.
10 thoughts on “Write No More Forever”
First of all, I agree with you on your second point. I think it’s just an insult, not so much an argument. But, back to your first point. I think you’re missing the point. Will is not saying that Obama or Hillary can’t properly govern the country based on the primary process. Here’s what he’s saying: "if you want to know what America would look like, if liberals really had
their way in running it, look at what they’re doing in their own
nominating process". I think you’re right, just because the process is crappy, it does not mean that whoever is selected is incapable of governing. However, I think it’s a fair argument for one to argue that a crappy process is an indictment on the Democratic party and its leadership that made it crappy.
I think it’s a fair argument for one to argue that a crappy process is
an indictment on the Democratic party and its leadership that made it
crappy. We’ve hit on something important here: the president is not the leader of his/her political party. The mentality that the president is the head of the national party is part of what has gotten us in so much trouble over the past few years as Republican congresspersons relinquished their Constitutional obligation to function as a check on the executive. Instead, they acknowledged Our Fearless Leader as the head of their party and fell in line with nauseating obeisance. That type of mentality is fealty; it’s the political currency of monarchy and despotism, not democracy. The party leadership is one thing and the office of the executive is another. Perhaps Will is right that the Democratic party leadership screwed up the primary (which he hasn’t proven, BTW), but that has no bearing whatsoever on Senator Clinton or Senator Obama because they are not the Democratic Party leadership.
Also, don’t buy into Will’s conflation of political liberalism and support of the Democratic Party. The two are not synonymous in the way Will pretends.
It seems to me that currently there is an actual political contest between two very viable candidates–Obama and Clinton. That such a contest exists seems hardly a reason to criticize the Democratic party. Quite the contrary. At least the Democratic party has engaged in a little democracy. When one practices Democracy, say, like here in the US, questions of fair procedure are bound to arise. Imagine how Bush was elected President–on the insistence on constitutional procedure. Determining what constitutes fair procedure, in other words, is one of the basic notions of a democracy. Along with that notion, there will be disagreement about notions of fairness. So Will has criticized the Democrats for practicing democracy–rather than, as Phil pointed out, fealty.
Ignoring people’s vote (Florida & Michigan) does not sound too democratic. Handing out "super-delegates" status to some people (some in high school) does not sound too democratic; I guess all people are equal except some that are more equal than the others. I think these and other are important elements that makes us wonder about the process. However, the issue Phil had, was not with the premise: "process is crappy". He just pointed out that there is no connection between that premise and the conclusion: "liberals will run the country in the same way as their process". I realize that there is a difference between "liberals" and "Democratic party", but like you correctly pointed out, he equates the terms. There is definitely a connection between the Democratic leadership and whomever will be the president. A president can’t do anything on his/her own (well …. he/she shouldn’t 🙂 ). I think, also, that is fair to assume that if Obama or Hillary wins, they will work more with the Democratic majority than the Republican one. I guess I see Will’s argument as more of an indictment of the whole Democratic Party, rather then a simple attack on Obama or Hillary.
Just one point. Why is the fact (if it is a fact) that "[the Democratic Party] cannot get to a majority" an indictment of the Democrats’ primary system? If people are divided between two candidates, it is neither good nor bad. It is just is a fact. If it is true, as Will claims, that the reason for the lack of a majority are the "exquisitely refined rococo rules about how to achieve fairness," this does not demonstrate that the rules are (a) problematic, or (b) unnecessary. Will presupposes that they are. Perhaps the rules are created in such a way because fairness is important. However, Will, rather than arguing that fairness is bad, strawman’s the legitimate concerns that people might have about the process. I don’t doubt that the rules the Democratic party have constructed with respect to the primary process might be in a need of a revision, but to say so doesn’t imply that fairness isn’t a necessary and "exquisite" goal for any electoral process. The Democrats just need to be more fair. And Will does as well.
If it is true, as Will claims, that the reason for the lack of a
majority are the "exquisitely refined rococo rules about how to achieve
fairness," this does not demonstrate that the rules are (a)
problematic, or (b) unnecessary. Will presupposes that they are.That’s good point, Jem. I sensed there was something slightly question-begging about Will’s claim, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Nice catch.
If I may, with all due respect, clarify briefly something important that jcasey wrote in his comment above: "When one practices Democracy, say, like here in the US …" In fact, the United States is not a democracy, nor was ever intended to be. The United States is a Constitutional Republic. The framers, and the Enlightenment thinkers who most influenced them, had no love of democracy, but on the contrary were rightly suspicious of it. The United States was never intended to be a democracy precisely because the right to life and the right to property are not subject to vote. Your life and your property are yours absolutely. Democracy means majority rule. The founders — at any rate, the best theoreticians among them — did not believe in majority rule on any fundamental issue, because they did not believe that the rights of even a single individual, let alone a whole race of people, could or should be subject to vote.Democracy, however, does have one place in our government, and perhaps that’s what you’re refering to in your comment above, jcasey (in which case, please disregard this entirely): what some of those same framers called the “selection of personnel,” which refers to electing officials whose job is to implement the Constitutional principles; but those principles — the principles of liberty and individual rights — are already in place and not subject to vote; nor was the selection of personnel ever meant to be a primary issue. The fact that it has become so — when, for example, it is decided by vote if you may open your liquor store on Sunday, or when it is decided by vote if you can allow people to smoke in your place of business — tells you how little our politicians understand the nature of rights, and how far we’ve come from the original concept.The Constitutional framers were as mistrustful of majority rule as they were of governments — and ultimately for the exact same reason: both have the power to obliterate individual rights. As Thomas Paine says in his book The Rights of Man:
“In its best state, government is but a necessary evil; in its worst,
an intolerable one.” Quoting economist and (very) erudite political scholar Robert Higgs, who in turn quotes the
Constitution: “Unfortunately, under FDR the Constitution suffered
damage that none of his successors has repaired and most have made
worse. Certainly since 1932 – and, one might well argue, since 1896 –
no president has been true to his oath of office. Realizing the
ambitions harbored by Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt
created the ‘imperial presidency,’ and we have been the worse for it
ever since. The people who ratified the original Constitution never
intended the presidency to be a powerful office spawning ‘great men.’
Article II, Sections 2-4, which enumerate the powers of the President,
comprise but four paragraphs, most of which deal with appointments and
minor duties: ‘The President is to take care that the laws be
faithfully executed, but only Congress can enact laws, and then only
within the scope of its limited, enumerated powers.’ The Presidency was
intended to be a largely ceremonial position whose occupant would
confine himself to enforcing federal laws. But over time, abruptly
during Lincoln’s presidency and progressively during the twentieth century, Presidents seized more and more power.”
In the words of the Stagirite: “to on legetai pollachos” or rather “ens dicitur multipliciter” or rather “being is said in many ways”;”Democracy," like being, is said in more than one way. What you suggest is hardly the only meaning–or even the primary meaning–of democracy.
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