It was columnist George Will as I never seen him before. Sputtering, red-faced and reverting to a terribly flawed example to make his point, Will was eviscerated by three impassioned critics on national television Sunday morning for defending the Nazi-like new Arizona immigration laws.
Will has a long history as the reigning silver-tongued elitist on the journalists’ round table portion of the ABC-TV’s This Week on Sunday mornings, a latter day Buckleyan known for his pretense of superior intelligence and acumen that come from aloof postulations aimed at defeating adversaries with the power of big and uncommon words.
As a fully-addicted viewer of the triumvirate of major network Sunday morning political “blab shows,” I have never seen Will as flustered and bug-eyed as he was trying to be an apologist for Arizona last Sunday. First of all, it is uncommon for Will to side with the kind of intemperate police-state laws that Arizona had passed the week before.
It’s easier to understand a political weasel like Sen. McCain coming out for the laws, because he’s become just another garden variety politician more concerned for his own political future than for things like equal justice under the law. What a complete fall from grace Sen. McCain’s latest pronouncements in defense of those Arizona laws represents, and what a shameful example of the GOP pandering to its radical right wing, in this case at the expense of losing every Hispanic vote in the nation.
But George Will has postured himself as above such political expediencies, a thoughtful conservative in the pure sense, a man willing to assail excess in politics where appropriate.
However, in his Washington Post column last Sunday, it was not the excesses of the Arizona laws that he denounced, but the purported excesses of word choice of those moral leaders of the land, from FDR to Obama to Roger Mahony, the Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles.
How dare Mahony, Obama, FDR or anyone else call things like Arizona’s new laws “retrogressive, mean-spirited, dreadful, abhorrent” and, oh yes, tantamount to “reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques,” Will exhorted.
With this column on newsstands, Will ran afoul of the Rev. Al Sharpton, Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation and comedian Bill Maher of HBO’s “Real Time.” With former Bush strategist Matt Dowd ostensibly on Will’s side, but worthless in this debate, Will was totally out-gunned by the passion, suasion and straight talk is his adversaries.
Will’s biggest, and uncommon blunder, based on a faulty premise that he should have seen coming, came when he said that asking persons to show ID in Arizona is no different than having everyone entering a government office building show ID.
Sharpton shot back, saying that Will’s reference makes the point. In the case of those buildings, he said, “Everyone has to show ID. They do not have the guards stand up there and say, only you that I deem to be reasonably suspect because I think you come from a particular group that may be entering the building to do harm, we’re going to search you!” No, Sharpton said, “Everyone is searched. This is not the case in the Arizona law.”
Pressed on whether he would support aspects of a Democratic immigration reform bill that involve, for example, a national ID card, Will could not bring himself to say he’d support even that, stammering and deflecting, instead, and trying unsuccessfully to turn the issue back on Sharpton.
Calling the ID card idea a “non-starter,” Vanden Heuvel said, “We need a comprehensive reform bill and the Republicans are not signing on anything.”
When Will tried to accuse Maher of calling all Republicans racists, Maher retorted, “I have never said, because it’s not true, that all Republicans are racist. That would be silly and wrong. But nowadays, if you are a racist, you’re probably a Republican, and that is quite different.” That evoked a loud roar from the entire panel.
It was the most fun I’ve seen on Sunday morning TV since the days of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Will may need a more muscular ally than Dowd was, but I say bring back Maher, Vanden Heuvel and Sharpton to spar with him every week.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org