Tag Archives: George Will

George Will On Our “Shabbiest” President

When one self-regarding man undertakes to analyze another, it can get interesting.

I typically find George Will to be just this side of insufferable. If we are talking about people who clearly take themselves way too seriously, he may well set the bar for the category. That said, he is clearly very intelligent, and occasionally he’s even insightful. (I’m told by baseball fans that his observations about the game are excellent.)

At any rate, his recent description of Donald Trump in “The Shabbiest U.S. President Ever” strikes me as “on the money.”

The current iteration of the Republican Party doesn’t escape Will’s wrath, and he’s properly scornful of the Senate’s unwillingness to act as part of an independent branch of government. But he saves most of his considerable vocabulary of insults for Trump.

The president’s most consequential exercise of power has been the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, opening the way for China to fill the void of U.S. involvement. His protectionism — government telling Americans what they can consume, in what quantities and at what prices — completes his extinguishing of the limited-government pretenses of the GOP, which needs an entirely new vocabulary. Pending that, the party is resorting to crybaby conservatism: We are being victimized by “elites,” markets, Wall Street, foreigners, etc.

After 30 years of U.S. diplomatic futility regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the artist of the deal spent a few hours in Singapore with Kim Jong Un, then tweeted: “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” What price will the president pay — easing sanctions? ending joint military exercises with South Korea? — in attempts to make his tweet seem less dotty?

Will spends a few sentences berating the media for its “lazy” fixation on “Trump as shiny object.” Then he gets serious.

Dislike of him should be tempered by this consideration: He is an almost inexpressibly sad specimen. It must be misery to awaken to another day of being Donald Trump. He seems to have as many friends as his pluperfect self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life. His historical ignorance deprives him of the satisfaction of working in a house where much magnificent history has been made. His childlike ignorance — preserved by a lifetime of single-minded self-promotion — concerning governance and economics guarantees that whenever he must interact with experienced and accomplished people, he is as bewildered as a kindergartener at a seminar on string theory.

Which is why this fountain of self-refuting boasts (“I have a very good brain”) lies so much. He does so less to deceive anyone than to reassure himself. And as balm for his base, which remains oblivious to his likely contempt for them as sheep who can be effortlessly gulled by preposterous fictions. The tungsten strength of his supporters’ loyalty is as impressive as his indifference to expanding their numbers.

This strikes me as an accurate–indeed, a perceptive– description.

I just can’t help wondering what a similarly penetrating examination of George Will would look like.


Pence: The Definitive Portrait

Let me begin by saying that I am not a particular fan of George Will. I find him patronizing, occasionally dishonest, frequently petty, and given to a prose style evidently intended to remind us lesser beings that he once swallowed a thesaurus.

But I really, really loved his recent screed about Mike Pence, which he titled “Trump is no longer the worst person in government.”

Most readers of this blog have probably seen it by now–for a couple of days, it was the most widely shared column on my Facebook feed, and probably many others. (As one of my friends noted, we in Indiana have had this impression of our former governor for years; it’s nice that non-Hoosiers can share it.)

Will doesn’t waste time getting to his thesis. Here’s the opening paragraph.

Donald Trump, with his feral cunning, knew. The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America’s most repulsive public figure. And Pence, who has reached this pinnacle by dethroning his benefactor, is augmenting the public stock of useful knowledge. Because his is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.

Oleaginous. Toadyism. Obsequiousness. Lickspittle. Ordinarily, I would be annoyed by the pretentiousness of the language, but I am compelled to admire how perfectly it fits. I do hope Mike Pence has a dictionary…

The entire column is a devastating–and accurate–takedown of Mr. Piety, and if you have somehow missed it, I encourage you to click through. What evidently set Will off was Pence’s praise of Joe Arpaio, the despicable sheriff who spent years violating the constitutional rights of people in Arizona, during a speech in Tempe.

Noting that Arpaio was in his Tempe audience, Pence, oozing unctuousness from every pore, called Arpaio “another favorite,” professed himself “honored” by Arpaio’s presence, and praised him as “a tireless champion of . . . the rule of law.” Arpaio, a grandstanding, camera-chasing bully and darling of the thuggish right, is also a criminal, convicted of contempt of court for ignoring a federal judge’s order to desist from certain illegal law enforcement practices. Pence’s performance occurred eight miles from the home of Sen. John McCain, who could teach Pence — or perhaps not — something about honor.

As those of us who have known him for years can attest, this performance was classic Pence. His “service” as governor was marked both by his constant parading of his Christian bona fides and his equally constant willingness to act in what most people would consider very unChristian ways: trying to block desperate Syrian refugees from settling in Indiana, opposing basic civil rights for LGBTQ Hoosiers, endorsing punitive anti-choice, anti-woman legislation… all while neglecting the pesky, day-to-day details of actually governing the state.

It’s hard to disagree with Will’s brutal last paragraph.

There will be negligible legislating by the next Congress, so ballots cast this November will be most important as validations or repudiations of the harmonizing voices of Trump, Pence, Arpaio and the like. Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.

Florid prose or no–when the man is right, he’s right.

That Housing Bubble

I rarely read George Will’s columns, and I stopped completely when he wrote one that blatantly lied about the findings of a university research center in an effort to debunk global climate change. (The center involved issued a statement protesting the mis-characterization of its research, but if the Washington Post ran it, I didn’t see it.)

Evidently, Will used a recent column to resurrect a horse that should have been dead long ago. When the housing bubble first burst, conservative pundits immediately blamed the whole mess on the CRA–the Community Reinvestment Act. The big bad government had forced lenders to make bad loans out of a misplaced “compassion” for non-creditworthy slackers. I knew this was bullshit, because I’d spent several years as a real-estate lawyer, and was well-acquainted with the Act and the practices of the banks that were covered by it.

Dean Baker has responded to Will’s effort to resurrect that argument with an excellent (and–gasp!–factual) smack down. It’s worth quoting at some length:

“There is not much ambiguity in the story of the housing bubble. The private financial sector went nuts. They made a fortune issuing bad and often fraudulent loans which they could quickly resell in the secondary market. The big actors in the junk market were the private issuers like Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Lehman Brothers. However, George Will and Co. are determined to blame this disaster on government “compassion” for low-income families.

The facts that Will musters to make this case are so obviously off-base that this sort of column would not appear in a serious newspaper. But, Will writes for the Washington Post.

The first culprit is the Community Re-investment Act (CRA). Supposedly the government forced banks to make loans against their will to low-income families who did not qualify for their mortgages. This one is wrong at every step. First, the biggest actors in the subprime market were mortgage banks like Ameriquest and Countrywide. For the most part these companies raised their money on Wall Street, they did not take checking and savings deposits. This means that they were not covered by the CRA.

Let’s try that again so that even George Will might understand it. Most of the worst actors in the subprime market were not covered by the CRA. The CRA had as much to do with them as it does with Google or Boeing. …”

Nuff said.