They got nuthin’

George Will is as intelligent a figure as the Red team has to show. If the best Will can come up with as an argument against Obama is to cite the lunatic ravings of a third-string Straussian about Obama’s hidden agenda – it seems he’s part of a conspiracy against the Constitution embracing Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and LBJ – then we can safely conclude that there is not, from a conservative perspective, an intellectually respectable argument against re-election.

Of course Will doesn’t even try to make an affirmative case for Romney, whose utter contempt for the truth Will must surely despise.

Footnote Why not add Jackson, and especially Lincoln, to the list of the Elders of Progressivism?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

35 thoughts on “They got nuthin’”

  1. “If the best Will can come up with as an argument against Obama is to cite the lunatic ravings of a third-string Straussian …”


    If the best YOU can come up with as an argument against George Will’s assertions is an AD HOMINEM attack, YOU LOSE. Try a brush-up on Logical Argumentation.

    1. What assertions? What do you take to be Will’s argument, other than “Some guy at CMC says”? (Cf. “argument from authority.” When an authority is cited, it’s not irrelevant to examine the authority’s credentials.)

      What actual evidence – as opposed to Straussian mumblings about reticence – does Will offer in support of his claim that Obama is a radical, and what point is made by the quotations from Wilson, FDR, and LBJ?

      1. Mark didn’t say he was intelligent. He just said that he’s “as intelligent a figure as the Red team has to show”.

      2. It’s a bit more complex than that. There are quite a number of first-rate intellects who play for Team Red: e.g., John Roberts or Frank Luntz or David Brooks. There is a reason they win so many elections. Similarly, there are a number of excellent conservative intellectuals out there: Conor Friedersdorf or David Frum. But they don’t play for Team Red. What is truly rare is a first-rate intellectual who plays for Team Red. (James Q. Wilson is dead; Harvey Mansfield’s IQ drops by 50 points whenever he suits up for his team.)

        I think, fwiw, that Krauthammer has substantially more candlepower than Will. He’s also insane, whereas Will is merely a whore.

    2. Ad hominem: George Will is wrong because he is an idiot.

      NOT Ad hominem: George Will is wrong because of A, B, C. And by the way, he is an idiot.

      This has been another edition of ‘how they misuse words and phrases’.

  2. I didn’t read the book, and I’m not going to. Still you have to wonder where these guys get this stuff from. I mean, I seriously, seriously doubt that FDR’s theory of individual rights was that these are granted to us by the government. To me that whole paragraph looks like a word salad of quotes taken out of context and rearranged to fit some paranoid fantasy.

    But then, I’m always surprised to discover that Republicans still hate FDR. I mean, the New Deal is 80 years old now — that’s more than a third of our Republic’s history.

    1. Once the Civil War is over, it will become easier to assess the great figures of the post-Civil War period like Roosevelt.

  3. That was a deeply weird, and content-free, column.

    One thing really struck me: the repeated (!) invocations of Woodrow Wilson. I mean, I understand that Wilson is for some reason a totemic and somehow relevant figure of Evil to those on the Right (while those of us on the left don’t really think about him, except to denounce the lost possibilities of the League Of Nations and especially the Palmer Raids) – but his use in the column is weird. He is meant to have somehow initiated a century-long campaign to do something to the American way of life – except that Wilson isn’t famous for, well, any changes to our structure of government, and none are cited. Heck, Wilson was a renowned scholar of political sciene before entering politics, and was President for eight years (less if you count the stroke) – but Will comes up only with a quote from Wilson that seems to express reverence for the Founders but that Will seemingly tendentiously twists to mean the opposite.

    I can understand why a Conservative would rend their garments at FDR’s achievement ending starvation among the elderly, and why they tear out their hair that LBJ stopped our elders from dying untreated in the gutters outside hospitals. But, honestly, what was Wilson’s contribution to this century-long march of tyranny? Why is he even there, occupying pride of place as the recurring touchstone of the column?

    1. i got this one.

      this goes back to some of the more florid strains of right-wing conspiracy theorying from the 60s and 70s. i got to observe apparently rational people diving headlong into this stuff in the early 80s. i lived for a month in a trailer park in east texas where i occasionally would hang with some of the folks who lived there. they kind of creeped me out a bit because they were very pro-posse comitatus types who believed in the wisdom of gary allen’s writings. in these writings wilson was portrayed as a tool of both international finance and international socialism, the intersection of which was frequently referred to as the *insiders*. it was one of those sets of beliefs which promoted epistemic closure. my skepticism made them uncomfortable and their discomfort made me uncomfortable because a couple of them were vietnam vets who would go out on “night actions” involving driving through pastures and woods with a searchlight on the top of a jeep and shooting up the landscape. i was not sorry to leave that milieu.

      anyway, wilson and his factotum colonel house with assistance from the rockefellers were supposed to have been part of a plan to bring bolshevism to the world through the manipulation of the monetary resources of america and the world. it doesn’t really make any more sense now than it did then but they were rabid about it. fdr was, of course, considered complicit in the conspiracy but wilson was one of the founding fathers of the conspiracy, and thus was more reviled.

      1. (replying here rather than a bit below, at the limit of the Reply system)

        I thank you for your replies in the comments, but to me they expand but do not enlighten: you make it even more clear that Wilson has for a long time been some sort of bogeyman figure on the Right, but still in a way that makes absolutely no sense.

        The notion that Wilson supported the Bolsheviks or had anything to do with “international socialism” is absurd – heck, under Wilson we invaded Russia to help the Whites and under Wilson we had the execrable Palmer raids, which were predicated largely on a fear of Anarchist and, yes, Socialist immigrants. And my (vague) recollection is that Wilson was worse on the issue of restraining the power of the wealthy than was Taft (who actually was better than Teddy Roosevelt had been, even though TR talked a good game on going after the Trusts). So your comment does provide more context and more examples, but it doesn’t explain, it doesn’t say how we got there.

        Also, note that Will is the bow-tied quondam intellectual of the Conservatives. He’s not supposed to be mindlessly repeating or even genuflecting towards baseless conspiracy theories that were circulating in Texas trailer parks thirty years ago – he is supposed to be presenting a worldview that is coherent and at least explicable, if not defensible.

        1. i’m not saying that the concept was rational but gary allen sold 5 million copies of “ndcic” in 72. it’s one of those concepts that seeped into the conservative id 40 years ago based on conspiracy theories that had been popular 20 years before that which were themselves based, in part, on conspiracy theories that had been popular 20 years before that and all of this has been bubbling below the surface since then. i stopped my look back with that book from the 30s i had mentioned. allen and abraham also made much of the federal reserve system (enacted during wilson’s first term) as a part of the drive to manipulate america into a world government scheme which was, of course 😉 , an inherent part of the global bolshevist conspiracy. i’m not defending the book or its ideas but to dismiss their influence on the intellectual undercurrents of conservative thought in the u.s. because it looks irrational is to dismiss the idea that sarah palin was a vice-presidential candidate for a major party because she was unqualified.

          with respect to will’s intellectual cachet don’t forget that buckley, the intellectual conservative’s intellectual conservative, was a staunch supporter and defender of joe mccarthy.

          and, due to some prolonged back and forth with brett bellmore, i’ve discovered if you continue replying to the last possible reply it will put the comment below the last comment on the thread.

      1. … and his screening of Birth of a Nation at the White House, the first private screening of a film there. Wilson endorsed the film enthusiastically, saying it was all “… so terribly true”. The film became a key recruiting tool for the KKK, and led to race riots in amny major cities.

        1. Yes, yes, we all agree: Woody was a thoroughgoing sh!t. And it is worth pointing that out: always good to say when the emperor has no clothes, even when he’s almost a century in his grave.

          But this worthwhile exercise aside, the question remains: why have the Republicans decided that Wilson is worth talking about? What could possibly have convinced them that Wilson was even part of the progressive movement, let alone its founding spirit? Why do they think anyone but them even much cares about Wilson, except that when he should happen for some reason to be invoked most of us will desultorily make a metaphorical nod in the direction of what Byron wrote about Castlereagh? This would be like our finding deep meaning and relevance in the Presidency of Calvin Coolidge.

          1. warren,

            please read again my response above on this thread. you can find the complete gary allen book, “none dare call it conspiracy,” on the internet. it was published in ’72 and sold a lot of copies during the election that year. after i read it (’83) i thought it was such magnificent bunk i had to know where he and his coauthor came up with it. using a university library and my hometown library’s interlibrary loan system, i waded through the sources until i realized how silly it was while reading some book from the late 1930s which made a direct analogy comparing colonel house (wilson’s go-to guy) and his role in the international bolshevist conspiracy to adam weishaupt and his role in creating the bavarian illuminati. i’m never surprised when i come across a conservative referring back to wilson.

          2. Arthur Schlesinger rated him as one of the great progressive presidents, co-wrote a biography of him.

          3. navarro’s got it, Warren. It’s really important to remember that the phantasmagorical Wilson of these fever dreams has no more relationship to the actual historical Wilson than the Obama of their nightmares has to do with the real Obama. As far as I can make it out, the idea is that WW was part of a world-wide conspiracy to enslave the world’s free peoples mainly through central banks, paper money, and income taxes. So WW is the arch-fiend of federal tyranny rather than, say, TR– the Fed was created on his watch and the 16th amendment constitutionalized income taxes then too. The fact that House was a mysterious figure who made a bunch of foreign trips as WW’s emissary gives some cover to the international conspiracy element.

            It’s an obvious update of the 19C Rothschild-Barings fears held by Populists (British and mostly Jewish bankers oppressing the US specifically and the world’s producer classes in general, supposedly tied to Bolsheviks because so many of them were Jews). If wiki’s accurate about Gary Allen, it was transmitted through the Birchers in his case. But I doubt that Allen has been the only source of this view or that Glenn Beck, who goes on endlessly about WW in very much the same vein, came to it this way. He has another guru whose name escapes me at the moment.

            As far as I can tell, casting daggers at WW seems to be kind of a shorthand for being anti-Fed, anti-fiat money, pro-gold standard, anti-income tax. But oddly having no problem with big banks or concentrations of capital and wealth, which the real Populists were all about trying to control.

          4. Altoid,
            I know nothing about the Fed (which puts me more or less on par with the people terrified of it), but Wilson didn’t abolish the Gold Standard (not that doing so was wrong) and he wasn’t even President when the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified by the states, let alone when it was an issue in DC. I suppose that as governor of New Jersey he may have pushed for its ratification – but New Jersey was actually one of the last states to ratify.

            The only item on the bill of particulars you cite to which Wilson even has any meaningful connection is the Federal Reserve System, which was enacted on his watch. Even that was largely the result of Congressional action and a panel of expert under the previous administration. But the new Democratic Administration and Congress did leave their mark: they modified the plan so that it would empower government bodies rather than empowering selected private bankers. And, yes, this was a Progressive move both in the traditional sense (small farmers rebelling against domination by their local bankers and by corporations) and the modern sense (giving control to democratically accountable institutions rather than acceding to rule by plutocrats). Responsibility for that change to the proposed Federal Reserve is a pretty weak thread on which to base the idea that Wilson shaped the twentieth century.

            And, yes, I realize that all of my quibbles are moot, that this isn’t really about a rational assessment of the evidence. That the views you describe are counterfactual and insane is hardly your fault. I just think it’s ludicrous that George Flipping Will would so eagerly buy into or pander to this nonsense.

          5. Isn’t this just further evidence of the Republican party looking more and more like East Texas trailer parks, as was I think navarro’s point?

          6. @altoid–if i had access to all of my papers and books which are currently in storage at my mother’s place i could tell you the name and author of that book from the 30s that compared house to weishaupt but it was all pretty freaking silly. and, yes, there were definitely anti-semitic strains running through some of the background materials i went through, especially those written pre-holocaust which gave the rothschilds a prominent place in the “history” of the global conspiracy for a one world government.

            @warren terra–another connection between wilson and the global conspiracy, as outlined by the authors of what i read, was his proposed league of nations. the actions of the isolationists in the senate were lovingly romanticized in some of the books. it’s all really silly but the thing is it’s been carried forward in the most conservative circles for so long that g. will may not be consciously aware of why wilson is supposed to be bad, he just knows he’s grown up around people believing in it so it makes sense to him to demonize wilson.

            @eli–that’s such a great interpretation of what i wrote i’m going to pretend that was my intention all along 😀

      2. … and in his attitude toward women. Wilson was embarrassed and unhappy that the only position as a professor he could get after earning his Ph.D. was at Bryn Mawr, where he had to teach women and report to a woman as his Dean. He left for Wesleyan and then Princeton as soon as he could. He only came around to supporting women’s suffrage late and reluctantly, under enormous direct pressure from Alice Paul’s civil disobedience campaign, during World War I.

  4. How is George Will, that pompous little pustule pf prolix, any different from Dinesh D’Souza here, with his “Obama is practicing inherited anti colonial kenyan socialism” ? They’re both lying sacks of shinola who like to dress up their bitchy little slaps in a plethora of words hauled out of a thesaurus.

  5. “Republican is America is Freedom is Good; Democrat is Europe is Socialism is Bad.”

    That’s the elite intellectual side of the GOP. The populist side of course is “N*ggers! Bitches! Fags!”

  6. Poor Mr. Will has to denounce Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, and Johnson in the abstract, without specifying just what intrusion of government power he finds so objectionable. If he said flat out what he meant — that you should vote Republican because the Democrats brought you Social Security, Medicare, and the Civil Rights laws — it would amount to endorsing Mr Obama’s re-election.

    So Will ends up looking like the mythical aeronautical engineer, insisting that he has excellent theoretical reasons why bumblebees can’t fly while they buzz around his head.

  7. “Romney, whose utter contempt for the truth Will must surely despise.”

    Why? Will hasn’t exactly shown an exemplary regard for honesty in the past — whatever you think about his conduct concerning his disclosure that his wife was working for Rick Perry, he certainly did some heavy lying by omission about his role in the 1980 Presidential debates. And someone who didn’t have an utter contempt for the truth might hesitate before building a column on some Straussian’s fictions about what other people have said.

    (By the way, isn’t it odd that Republicans continue to slag on Roosevelt? That so many of their intellectuals are at an institution that proudly bears the name of Herbert Hoover?)

  8. The GOP has not yet internalized the fact that the Democrats under Obama have taken up the mantle of true conservatism–and I mean this in the best sense, as moderation, reasonableness, incremental change, and testable results.

    George Will and others of his ilk still think categorically, as in GOP=conservative and good, Democrats=vaguely socialist and bad. But these categories have long since ceased to exist. The current generation of young people will, I think, grow up to understand the Democrats and the GOP as very different entities than their parents did. The tropes and biases of the 1960s no longer apply.

    Will’s thinking calcified years ago. He may once have been intelligent, but his intellect is fossilized. He can only recycle old arguments that now make no sense, and he lacks any self awareness about the degradation of his own mental abilities. He is to public intellectuals what bow-ties are to men’s fashion: objects of gentle mockery, so unaware of their own outdatedness that you feel sorry for them.

  9. I am constantly seeing George Will and Charles Krauthammer on the Sunday talk shows sitting opposite whatever person has been chosen to represent the “Left Wing” view. Charles always looks like he has a piece of shit stuck just under his nose and of late (it seems to me) has had less to offer in the way of opinions.

    What always amazes me is that these two are treated with respect by the other participants. I think it is way past the time when someone should turn to them and say “That is total nonsense. Who pays you to spout such bullshit? Surely you can’t honestly believe what you just said?”

    They should not be allowed to be unchallenged.

    1. I saw Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake do this to Lanny Davis on national TV about a year ago or so. It was a thing of beauty to watch.

  10. What’s always amazed me about Straussians is their ability to see just how deeply involved *other* groups are in conspiracies, cabals, and hidden combinations.

    G. Will came and gave a talk for hire at our little campus a few years ago, might have been 2008. He was on stage with a wireless mic, ambulated around among the few parlor-style prop items in a weird kind of figure-8 pattern, mostly looking down and almost never at the audience, and delivered himself of semi-connected paragraphs that seemed to have come from previous columns, all delivered in that voice of Platonic certitude that he might have developed as a parody of a prior generation of dogmatists. One of the strangest guest-speaker experiences I’ve ever had.

    Most modern goopers, btw, would consider Hoover a socialist. In fact, it would be kind of fun to list descriptions of things he did, like the RFC and the dam but with names removed, and poll them what they’d call a guy who did stuff like that. There can’t be many instances in the actual history of this or almost any country of the kind of position they say they want; maybe the Russell ministry’s Irish policy in the later 1840s. And that turned out so well, too–

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