Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 12, 2009

GEORGE WILL'S ODD LOGIC.... I'm not surprised George Will disapproves of the economic stimulus package poised to become law. I am surprised he hasn't come up with better arguments against it.

In his column today, Will argues, for example, that "some liberals are certain that the spending they favor ... will completely pay for itself." Actually, Will has this backwards. Conservative Republicans falsely believe tax cuts pay for themselves; liberals believe putting a recovery package on the national charge card is necessary given the scope of the economic crisis. We don't think the spending "pays for itself"; we believe in paying the bill later.

Will also argues that the size of the stimulus bill is larger than federal budgets of a quarter-century ago. Putting aside inflation adjustments, it's not altogether clear why Will thinks this is important, other than to note that the package is, in fact, big. Of course, we knew that -- its size only matters relative to the economic emergency it's intended to address. Will's point is only slightly more sophisticated than Mitch McConnell's "Jesus timeline" argument and John Thune's "C-Notes to the Sky" pitch.

But this was easily George Will's strangest observation: "John McCain probably was eager to return to the Senate as an avatar of bipartisanship, a role he has enjoyed. It is, therefore, a measure of the recklessness of House Democrats that they caused the stimulus debate to revolve around a bill that McCain dismisses as 'generational theft.'"

Got that? If McCain, a conservative Republican, disapproves of the bill, it's necessarily evidence of "recklessness" on the part of congressional Democrats.

Marc Ambinder checked Will's logic:

P1: John McCain enjoyed being bipartisan in the past.

P2: [All people who enjoy things in the past will want to continue doing them in the future.]

C1: Therefore John McCain wanted to continue being bipartisan.

P3: John McCain did not continue being bipartisan.

P4: [Only recklessness by House Democrats could cause John McCain not to be bipartisan.]

C2: Therefore House Democrats are reckless.

Will's going to have to do better than this.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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"Will's going to have to do better than this."

Brace yourself for this, Steve: With Professor Will, it don't GET no better than this. Will's vacant skull is currently occupied by hobgobblins contracted out by Jonah Goldberg. 'Nuff said.

Posted by: Vertigo on February 12, 2009 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

Well, good for you, you got a lot further than I did. This morning over a cup of coffee, I started Will's first sentence, "The president, convinced that the only thing America has to fear is an insufficiency of fear..." and stopped right there. That's a real forehead slapper, even for George Will.

Posted by: wally on February 12, 2009 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "Will's going to have to do better than this."

Not really. The corporate-owned mass media is perfectly happy to publish his slavish regurgitation of scripted Republican talking points and to pay him a lot of money for typing them up, because it helps them to promote their class warfare agenda to gullible dupes. So why does he "have to do better"?

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 12, 2009 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Will's going to have to do better than this.

It is a scientific fact that a wren cannot fly through a sixteen-inch-thick sheet of titanium. It is also a scientific fact that the wren, after numerous attempts to puncture the sixteen-inch-thick sheet of titanium by flying through it, would be one very dead wren. Likewise, it is an equally-defensible scientific fact that "George Willie" cannot "do better than this"....

Posted by: Steve W. on February 12, 2009 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Will is a polemicist often mistaken for an intellectual. It must be the bow tie and glasses.

Posted by: Jon on February 12, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

SA, why do you hate America so much? Don't you see the obvious? That the welfare of a few amoral pricks IS the National Interest? What's good for concentration of power and wealth is good for the country, pal. You'd've thought you learned that in civics class, like everyone else. Sheesh.

Posted by: Conrads Ghost on February 12, 2009 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Georgie is a master of the meaningless statistic: "The number of members of the House who belong to health clubs with Olympic-sized swimming pools is greater than the combined weight of the average married couple in England throughout the years of the Blitz. Well."

Posted by: hells littlest angel on February 12, 2009 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

It might be news to George that McCain admitted he didn't understand the economy, demonstrated his cluelessness before the election, and was ultimately rejected by the voters. Pundits can't be expected to know everything.

Posted by: qwerty on February 12, 2009 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Back in the day, I used to read conservatives. But over the last 30 years, conservatives have gone from sensible to The Party of Stupid. (not my coinage). Slowly, I had to stop reading them, because it was too frustratingly stupid. Obviously things like Rush and NRO I had to stop reading first, but gradually I've had to quit even people like Will and Brooks.

Posted by: steve s on February 12, 2009 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Wills didn't always think that McCain was an avatar of bipartisanship.

For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are "corrupt" or "betray the public's trust," two categories that seem to be exhaustive -- there are no other people.

Posted by: Danp on February 12, 2009 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

It seems that Mr. Will is disappointed that the Obama administration wanted to put economic recovery ahead of political one-upmanship. What a killjoy; so what if the unemployment rate continues to climb along with foreclosures? He wants to keep his gig as the taciturn schoolmaster on This Week, and if we're all getting along, he might have to get a real job.

Mr. Will's heart really isn't in it, either; he's quoting John McCain as the author of the "generational theft" line, when, in fact, it came from Michelle Malkin, the whack-job pundit who's best known for advocating internment camps for illegal aliens, stalking the family of Graeme Frost, and publishing the private information of her opponents on her blog. In short, she's not a nice person, and I would have thought that Mr. Will could do a little better than quote her second-hand. Even Mr. Will has expressed disdain for her kind of discourse.

I am sure that there are a lot of legitimate reasons to knock the stimulus plan that finally got hammered out by the House and Senate; as the president said, it won't be perfect, and personally I would have preferred to see a lot more money sent to the local schools to fix the plumbing. But to complain that it's considered bad form to attack it just for the sake of a political argument? That might carry a little more weight had it not been the Republicans who piled up the mountains of debt and lackadaisical oversight that brought us to this point. So it's a little ripe for him to be complaining about the way someone else is going about cleaning up a mess he didn't object to creating in the first place.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on February 12, 2009 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

What the plan lacks, and Mr. Will will not agree, but neither does the Sec of Treasury or the President, is transfers of wealth from the rich to the minimum and median wage earners who have had stagnating wages the past twenty-five years while the economy grew by quite a bit. The withholding of a bit of the economy's growth from the working classes for so long has succeeded in locking them out of the consuming classes. Without a transfer of wealth to the workers who add value to goods and services sold for revenues and a concomitant change increasing their share of the surplus of that labor, it is doubtful an economic recovery will be possible. Shutting out 40% of the population from the benefits of the economy cannot be sustained, which is partly why consumers have capitulated. Giving public monies to the financial sector will not return the working class back to the consuming classes.

Posted by: Brojo on February 12, 2009 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Is Will kidding?! The stimulus bill was the gift that keeps on giving for Republicans whose whole comeback strategy is predicated on leading a Reagan Restoration of small government conservatism. The GOP benefits enormously by the fact that the economic crisis compelled Obama to come out with a massive spending bill right out of the box, which allowed the GOP to grandstand and demagogue with the public's natural distaste for taxes and "big government" spending. The GOP's unanimous rejection of this has nothing to do with their opposition on the merits and everything to do with their political needs.

Posted by: Ted Frier on February 12, 2009 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Is this the same George Will whose earlier wife tossed his clothes out a second-floor window?

Posted by: Shirley on February 12, 2009 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP believes that if the economy has not improved significantly by 2010, they will be able to point to their obstructionism and ride the swinging pendulum back to power. If the people were that easily swayed, the GOP would be talking about Alf Landon all the time, instead of Ronald Reagan. People have figured them out, and they will be in the doghouse for a long long time.

Posted by: tom in ma on February 12, 2009 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Let's face it, until the opposition to economic stimulus shows us a cohesive argument, I think it is merely a launcher of flak, and nothing more than flak. In fact, Will and his ilk seem to be flak- hacks. Another bumpersticker: Beware of flak-hacks, they're bad for business! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 12, 2009 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

There must have been a time in American history when "conservative intellectual" was not an oxymoron.

Posted by: Chris S. on February 12, 2009 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

George Will needs to stick with a topic where he's not quite as clueless...like baseball.

Posted by: Ken on February 12, 2009 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

john mc cain is running for re-election to the senate

until that election he will try to earn the votes of his conservative voters in arizona

if e is re-elected he will be free to once again to court independent voters by posing as bipartisan-man, the senator with principles - country first and all that

Posted by: jamzo on February 12, 2009 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

You're surprised that George Will is a shameless hack? I'm surprised at your surprise.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on February 12, 2009 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

I'm disappointed that Will didn't pick up on Stewart's analogy that if all those dollars were sewn together into a blanket, they would cover the planet Juipter. If Will is going to make worthless arguments, he could have really used that one.

Posted by: sparrow on February 12, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

"Will's going to have to do better than this."

A bridge too far.

Posted by: Joe Friday on February 12, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Seeing the word 'McCain' in a syllogism, and in a syllogism extracted from a George Will piece, is like seeing an emperor penguin not just in a sauna, but in the first-class sauna on the Queen Mary II

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on February 12, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Your analysis is superior to Ambinder's. There's nothing wrong with Will's logic on this particular point. The problem, as you note very clearly, is that a key premise is just false--McCain is a conservative republican, not one who yearns to be bipartisan as a matter of constant habit.

You're right to point out the searing irrelevance of the size of the stimulus--Will needed to find an economist to tell him that.

Posted by: jcasey on February 12, 2009 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

it's an extraordinarily bad column, but when Will says this:
"some liberals are certain that the spending they favor ... will completely pay for itself."
he could be referring to the idea, promulgated by some economists, and perhaps touted by some liberals, that if the stimulus works and we pull out of the recession, AND we get the economy stabilized and growing again, THEN IF we can get the GDP growing at a rate above Bush's anemic 2.6%, to 3% or more, then the $789 billion outlay really could pay for itself OVER TIME in the form of increased revenue.

Posted by: along on February 12, 2009 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Will is a polemicist often mistaken for an intellectual. It must be the bow tie and glasses.

That and the use of archaic words.

Posted by: Juanita de Talmas on February 12, 2009 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not surprised George Will disapproves of the economic stimulus package poised to become law. I am surprised he hasn't come up with better arguments against it.

You wouldn't be, if you'd spent a lot of time lately actually reading Will's columns.

I decided, last summer and fall, to blog about the WaPo op-ed page. (Painful, but somebody had to do it.) One of my takeaways was that George Will was the worst of that sorry lot. Worse than Fred Hiatt, worse than Robert J. (Not Paul, not even an economist) Samuelson, worse than Anne Applebaum, worse than Charles Krauthammer or Michael Gerson.

Not only were Will's arguments consistently terrible and was his 'command' of facts a total misnomer, but unlike the others, he couldn't even write a workmanlike column with a beginning, a middle, and an end. His columns would be a random walk, on a good day, and just plain flop around, on a bad day.

I can only assume that Will, in person, isn't the blithering idiot he comes across as in his columns. But his columns are abysmally bad.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on February 12, 2009 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

As I found out at the Obama Youth Rally & Nihilist Hate Expo I just got back from, George Will is actually a closet nihilist who's helping to undermine America from the inside. And he's not the only one.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on February 12, 2009 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

What George Will fails to understand about John McCain has nothing to do with St. John's "bipartisanship" past, present or future.

What he doesn't understand is McCain's mean streak. He HATES anyone who has bested him, or even crossed him. That's why he couldn't pick any of the other ReThug candidates as his running mate.

He will never, EVER cooperate with Obama on ANYTHING, while making nicey nicey talk to try to fool everyone into thinking he wants to be bipartisan.

Think about his history of temper tantrums. He carries grudges like no one ever has. He's an emotionally stunted individual.

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on February 12, 2009 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Dear George Will:

The U.S. Gross Domestic Product is four and a half times larger today than it was 25 years ago. The U.S. Population is 70 million people larger than 25 years ago.

Only a dishonest twit would make your argument.

Posted by: milo on February 12, 2009 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

We don't think the spending "pays for itself"; we believe in paying the bill later.
Chortle, snicker.

Posted by: Luther on February 12, 2009 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

George Will is a supercilious (the word is almost made for him) prick with pretensions of intellectuality and artsy classic writing and name dropping, but basically just an asshole who puts together clunky pseudoarguments for Republicanism and to embarrass Democrats.

Posted by: Neil B ☺ on February 12, 2009 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK



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