Monday, July 31, 2017

George Will at his most Thought-provoking.

1.  On Non-voting.  A symposium on "the problem of declining voter participation" prompted a 1983 column in which Will took issue with the idea that low turnout is a "problem". He says that "As more people are nagged to the polls, the caliber of the electorate declines. The reasonable assumption about electorates is: Smaller is smarter."

Will points out that democracy depends on consent of the governed, and "nonvoting is often a form of passive consent". It is only when the people are riled up that voter turnout rises, as in Germany in 1933, when turnout was close to 90%.

Will says that "the glory of our politics, as conducted by two parties with low ideological flames, is that the stakes of our elections, as they affect the day-to-day life of the average American, are agreeably low". This is in line with Will's oft-expressed conservative view that government's influence in everyday American life is, and should be, minimal.

Finally, when it comes to presidential elections the result in most states is a foregone conclusion, making it seem pointless to vote.

2.  On "community".  In analyzing the 1984 election between Reagan and Mondale, Will waxes philosophic on various notions of community. He says that Mondale's notion was of a national community, in which the federal government would try to foist on the nation its various schemes and programs, a liberal idea which gained prominence in the 20th century.

Will argues that this view is wrongheaded, because it "envisions a degree of national cohesion and central direction known only in wartime". Only in wartime does the country come together with a unity of national purpose. Otherwise, we are a far-flung collection of local communities, united only in the sense that we all participate in national elections (and even these are really only state-by-state elections, so there are no truly "national elections").

Will argues that the national unity sought by liberals like Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and LBJ led to the federal government "becoming a divisive force, a hammer pounding local communities", using "bureaucratic edicts and judicial fiats to assault against the traditional prerogatives of locality and neighborhood to define and preserve their own ways of life. In the name of the national community, liberalism tried to break smaller communities to the saddle of the national government."

The upshot is that Will sees the 1984 election as a referendum on the issue of whose idea of community is best. The country resoundingly sided with Reagan's idea that the country is a collection of communities, an "archipelago", if you will, of diverse local communities.

What makes this onto my "most thought-provoking" list is the impact this issue has on the question of individual liberty vs. the rights of the community. If a given community wants there to be no abortions in its midst, does that comunity have the right to ban them? Should it have that right? Will would argue that the answer is yes. Should it have the right to ban what it regards as pornography? Again, Will's answer is yes.

Here is "where the rubber meets the road", in that there are no easy answers to these questions. Does it even make any sense to talk about the "rights" of the community? I have a hard time wrapping my mind around this question.

3.  On "identity politics".  Will did not use this term, but he was perhaps the first to expose the fallacy of engaging in identity politics when he wrote, after the 1984 election, that "Democrats tried to use Geraldine Ferraro to get half the electorate to act from frivolous motives. The selection of her was condescending toward women, an attempt to trigger collective, reflexive voting by women on something other than serious issues."

We have seen today that the use of identity politics has gotten completely out of hand. An example is when I was called a misogynist by a Facebook friend for not jumping on the Hillary bandwagon after Sanders withdrew. Ordinarily I would not name the offender, but in this case she is a public figure so I can name her: Stephanie Krehbiel.

I made the rather innocuous and obvious observation that Hillary Clinton was boring and preprogrammed as a candidate. Ms. Krehbiel jumped all over me for this; she said that a woman is unable to show personality because then she will be rejected as too emotional.

I replied with the example of Elizabeth Warren, a very passionate woman who won election and remains very popular to this day, despite being very emotional about what she believes in. This example completely refuted the allegations of Ms. Krehbeil and her minions.

And yet, they continued to barrage me with misogynist complaints, claiming that anybody opposing Hillary on personality grounds must be a misogynist! I responded with an account of my long history of observing and commenting on presidential elections, which goes back to 1960 (approximately twice as long as Ms. Krehbiel has been alive). During this time I have often commented negatively on male candidates whose personality defects made them poor candidates to lead the country.

Notwithstanding my patience in offering this explanation, Ms. Krehbiel not only failed to apologize, she failed to even acknowledge my explanation. Talk about a closed mind!

Every national commentator I have seen has echoed my comments. The adjectives differ from commentator to commentator, but the idea is the same: Hillary Clinton was stiff, stilted, dull, boring robotic, unspontaneous, uninspiring, lacking in passion, uncomfortable in her own skin, and unable to think on her feet. I suppose Stephanie Krehbiel thinks that we are all misogynists?

The use of identity politics has exploded in recent times, to the detriment of our democracy. And the reason for this is people like Stephanie Krehbiel, who see people not as individuals but as part of some sociological group, and who refuse to listen to anyone who disagrees with them.