Posts Tagged ‘George Will’

The Dangerous Self-Delusion of Some Conservatives

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Et Tu, Brute?

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, I have noticed a curious phenomenon in which some conservative commentators seem to be so desperate to find a silver lining to the ruling that they have abandoned all logic.  Consider George Will, who wrote a column in the aftermath of the ruling that actually puts forward the argument that we conservatives should take the fact that Roberts didn’t rely upon the commerce clause as evidence that there might be some constitutional limitation on the federal government after all.  That would be a wonderful aspect of this ruling, if they had overturned the law!  Instead, what we have is a monstrous precedent set in which the court re-writes a law in order to make it constitutional by imputing into the act a tax that had not existed in fact.  This is an unmitigated disaster.  I have heard a few who have noted hopefully that this ruling will energize the conservative base, and while that’s probably the case, I’m not certain I am so concerned about the political fall-out as I am about the long-run constitutional implications.  You see, the political situation may permit us to repair the law, but it doesn’t permit us to immediately repair the damage done to the body of case law  upon which future courts will rely as precedents in their own rulings.

The other thing I have read is the bizarre notion put forward by the National Review that what Roberts did was more conservative because he exercised judicial restraint in not striking down the law.  Balderdash!  Once you realize the legal contortions through which Roberts arrived at this ruling, it makes no sense whatever to claim he hadn’t acted as an activist.  The convoluted logic by which he found a tax in a law that plainly states it does not contain one is an onerous breech of any notion of strict construction.  I cannot conceive of any intellectually rigorous examination of this ruling by which this can be seen as a positive by anybody who is in favor of strict construction.  When it came to the Anti-Injunction section of the ruling, it was held not to have been a tax, but just a few pages later, as Roberts performed mental gymnastics, he declared it was a tax after all.

On Thursday evening, Mark Levin summarized the matter better than anybody I’ve heard speak to this matter, in part because he understands the legalities in question, his Landmark Legal Foundation having been a participant in this case, but also because he knew Justice Roberts years ago when they both worked in the Reagan administration.  Levin’s critique of the decision mirrors most of my own, and indeed, there was one aspect I hadn’t considered until Levin led me to it.  That premise led me to yet another that I don’t believe Levin has yet realized in full.  What one must understand is that this ruling is an unmitigated disaster, and no search for some alleged silver lining can repair it.

What justice Roberets actually did was to expand the definition of what constitutes a permissible tax .  Congress is permitted to levy only certain forms of tax, and this one doesn’t fit the definition of any of them.  In dispensing with that issue, Roberts held that it didn’t matter, and that words don’t matter, and that plain-written legislative language doesn’t matter.  He also ignored the context of the law, and the intent of Congress.  One version of this bill had an actual tax, but Congress could not pass it in that form, so Congress altered it to contain no tax.  What John Roberts did was to ignore the actual text of the legislation, and to say that the labels didn’t matter:  If it looks like a tax, it is one.  The problem with this is that it does nothing to restrain Congress from levying new taxes, and ignores the definitions of what sort of taxes Congress may enact.  This is a wholesale extension of Congressional taxing authority because what Roberts ruled with respect to the particular form of the tax, insofar as the question of whether Congress had met the constitutional limits on whether it could impose it was effectively: “Close enough.”

That is offered to us as evidence of John Roberts’ alleged strict construction?  Close enough?  What this means, effectively, is that if Congress enacts some tax that it has questionable constitutional authority to levy, smiling John will be there to tell us it’s “close enough,” with every leftist monster on the court standing behind him to uphold it.

Ladies and gentlemen, there exists no silver lining to this ruling.   All of the crackpot, delusional happy-talk from some conservatives in media is designed to make you feel better.  You’ve just lost both arms and legs in a brutal assault, but they tell you, you should consider this a happy opportunity to enjoy the comforts of a new wheelchair and mouth-controlled joystick.  You’ve just lost your family to a violent home-invasion, but, they tell you, you should view this as a chance to start over.  The intention here is to keep you calm.  The intention now is to serve a political end, while your country is dying around you.  Your most sacred law, the US Constitution, has been crumpled and tossed into the ash-bin of history, and you are told you should do a happy-dance to the calming sounds of “Oh Happy Days.”

I’d like you to inventory the whole of the conservatives to whom you listen, or whose columns and opinions you read, and I want you to take care to note which of them are imploring you to consider some silver lining.  They are lying.  They have good intentions, many of them, and they have contorted themselves into a formless spaghetti of reasoning in order to find some good in this awful plate of refuse you’ve been handed.  Don’t surrender your minds by sprinkling Parmesan on it and wolfing it down.  Are there some limited political opportunities as a result of this decision? Yes, but they require the fulfillment of a whole laundry-list of “if-then” statements.

IF Mitt Romney is elected, and IF he doesn’t sell us out, and IF we hold the House, and IF we recapture the Senate(and at least 60 votes) and IF the moderates in either house don’t screw us, and IF Boehner and McConnell have the guts to do in repealing what the villains Reid and Pelosi did in passing the ACA, and IF they can deliver a bill to President Romney’s desk, and IF John Roberts and the other liberals on the court can be replaced, and IF Mitt Romney can replace them with actual strict constructionists, THEN you might have a chance to undo this damage.  IF any of these don’t happen, your constitution is effectively dead as a restraint on government.

The danger of self-imposed delusions is that you come to believe them, like a pathological liar.  It is by this form of self-delusion that we’ve permitted our country to lose its roots in reverence for the Constitution.  We cannot defeat the statists by pretending this isn’t the disaster that it is, if we can defeat them at all.  I believe some talking heads know this, but do not want to yield to what will come in the wake of such a monstrosity.  They’re hanging on, stubbornly telling us that the stench of smoke reaching our nostrils is merely an air freshener of a novel scent.  Rather than screaming “Fire,” and warning conservative Americans that the house is ablaze, the barn is wiped out, the surviving farm animals running loose in a frantic bid to stay ahead of the flames licking at their heels, many are now telling you that it’s all okay.  It will be fine.

No, it won’t.

Who Died And Left George Will In Charge?

Monday, December 5th, 2011

In Which Direction Will George Point You?

I realize that George Will is the establishment’s pet conservative.  I realize that all these thirty-two years since he supported George H.W. Bush against Ronald Reagan early in the Republican primaries, Mr. Will has been smarting from being wrong.  I know all of that, but what I do not understand is how George Will has become the “go-to” conservative for every occasion.  Last week, I listened to him pillory Newt Gingrich on Laura Ingraham’s radio program, and his column about Gingrich was simply scathing, but all of this begs a question:  Will says Romney is no good, and I agree, and I might be inclined to agree that Gingrich has several fatal flaws, but what does Will offer other than insults?  To say of Newt Gingrich that he “would have made a marvelous Marxist” is more bellicose than truthful.  What is troubling about this statement is actually the way in which he supports his claim:

Gingrich, who would have made a marvelous Marxist, believes everything is related to everything else and only he understands how. Conservatism, in contrast, is both cause and effect of modesty about understanding society’s complexities, controlling its trajectory and improving upon its spontaneous order.

What Will argues is that Gingrich, with his multiple plans and endless ideas, is like the schemers of socialist leaning who never fail to present projects that end up failures which they dismiss because, they claim, others hadn’t grasped them.  It’s all well and good as a reproach, but then Will offers us his view of conservatism, and I must say that in total, it doesn’t match mine in the least.  I don’t know conservatives who wish to improve on society’s spontaneous order.  The conservatives I know would be happy to see the development of some sort of spontaneous order in substitution for all the plans and ideas Washington DC already imposes.  Ronald Reagan was modest in person, but not in ideas.  He didn’t shrink from offering new and bold  ideas to elevate — not control — society’s trajectory.

I think this serves to explain why Will seems to resent actual conservatives, and why it seems will is so thoroughly ready to throw Palin, Gingrich and a whole host of others over the rail: Will is an educated, erudite man who is part of the Washington DC establishment, the existence of which he denies.  Back in August of this year, in the online Green Room Segment of This Week on ABC, will said:

“Amy used the ‘e’ word that I would like to ban from public discourse: ‘establishment,’” Will said. “There is no Republican establishment. In 1966 its house organ — the Republican establishment’s – the New York Herald-Tribune died. The establishment itself died two years earlier in Cow Palace in San Francisco with the nomination of Barry Goldwater.”

Consider for a moment what will is arguing:  He’s stating flatly that the candidacy of the Barry Goldwater in 1964 effectively destroyed the Republican party establishment.  That wasn’t true then, and it hasn’t been true since, or Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have needed to overcome it in 1980.  The reason Will wants the word “establishment” banned is because in all honesty, whatever his position in life in 1964, Will has become part of that establishment in its continuing evolution.  To be sure, it’s not exactly the same establishment, but it is an establishment nevertheless.  It’s the sort of establishment that sees Mitch Daniels as a savior.  It’s the sort of establishment that views Governor Huntsman as a great option.  It’s the sort of establishment that sees Jeb Bush as the second(or third) coming.  It’s the sort of establishment that views conservatives outside of Washington as an afterthought, to be shaped, molded, and driven, but never, ever  minded.

Even now, the establishment seems aligned with Romney, and while Will took his shots at Romney not long ago, he’s now suggesting that as bad as Romney is, Gingrich is worse.  This prompts a question, because among the Washington intelligentsia, back when Gingrich was Speaker of the House, they would have had you believe he was the most conservative of them all, to the right of Rush Limbaugh, for goodness’ sake.  Remember when Newt was that mean and villainous conservative, the “Gingrich Who Stole Christmas,” in Time Magazine, only as far back as 1994?  That hardly seems like the resume of a man who “would have made a marvelous Marxist.”

In point of fact, Will’s ludicrous assessment of Gingrich is no more or less absurd than the portrayal of Gingrich as the Grinch, some seventeen years ago.  Will would have you believe Gingrich is alongside Karl Marx, while Time Magazine portrayed him as an extremist right-winger.  I don’t believe either assessment, because both have the cacophonous racket of shrill protests, but more because I see Newt’s record as rather more moderate.  He certainly has his “big ideas,” but what of it?  He’d hardly be the first President to offer one.

Whatever I may think of Gingrich, there exists no shortage of conservatives who remember the shrill voices of an establishment in Washington that claimed Gingrich and conservatives wanted to “starve children,” or “feed grandma dog-food from a can.”  It was all garbage, and truth be told, they’re still angry about it, so that Gingrich may be the beneficiary of an era gone by, when he was made to be DC’s caricature of a conservative.  It’s small wonder that conservatives now look hopefully to him to live up to that image. For his part, Will simply feeds this view, because most American conservatives have become exhausted with the constant criticisms coming from establishment Republicans and their media mouthpieces who never find anything positive to say about a conservative.  Will is feeding what he claims to oppose, because the nation’s conservatives by now rationally view Will as part of the problem.   He can call Gingrich a Marxist if he likes, but all he’ll succeed in doing is pushing voters to Gingrich with that hyperbole.

At some point, somebody’s going to ask George who died and left him to decide the fate of the Republican party, and if he believes it’s his place, how does this validate his point about the death of the establishment he claims to have witnessed?  This election needs more than the old, tired Washington-insider appraisal, but sadly for George Will, that’s all he seems now to offer.