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George Will

Washington Post Columnist George Will

SOURCE: August Pollak

George Will may be a staunch conservative—one who has denied the existence of global warming, the importance of equal rights for women, and the realities of the Iraq War—but he isn’t exactly a die-hard Republican loyalist. An ABC News contributing analyst and published author, Will is best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning, conservative newspaper column he began in 1974, which appears in the Washington Post and is syndicated in more than 450 newspapers nationwide. He has also had a bi-weekly column in Newsweek since 1976. In 1997, the National Journal named Will among the 25 most influential Washington journalists. A measure of Will’s influence is that President Obama chose to have dinner at Will’s suburban Maryland home with a group of influential conservatives just days before the inauguration.

Born on May 4, 1941, in Illinois, Will earned a bachelor’s degree from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and a master’s degree from Oxford University. In 1968, Will received a doctorate in politics from Princeton University. He taught political philosophy at Michigan State University and the University of Toronto before coming to Washington, where he served on the staff of the late Sen. Gordon Allott, a Republican from Colorado, from 1970 until 1972 before entering journalism. He was the Washington editor of the conservative journal The National Review from 1973 to 1976, and from there he launched to his position at the Post. Will also developed a taste for baseball commentary; his book on baseball published in 1991, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball, has outsold his ten other politically-oriented books combined.

Will’s unique viewpoints were visible early in his writing career. When his 1983 book Statecraft as Soulcraft: What Government Does was reviewed by The New York Times, the reviewer suspected that Will might be perceived as a closest liberal but assured his readers that Will “remains a deep-dyed conservative.” As his career progressed, Will continually refused to compromise his beliefs for the sake of party unity and wasn’t bashful about criticizing both liberals and fellow conservatives in his columns. In his early days as a columnist, Will relentlessly attacked Richard Nixon over Watergate and other failings. And in a now infamous Jan. 30, 1986 Post column, Will took on George H.W. Bush, saying: “The unpleasant sound Bush is emitting as he traipses from one conservative gathering to another is a thin, tinny ‘arf’—the sound of a lap dog.” More than 20 years later, Will took a similarly hard swing at Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain in a September 2008 Washington Post column entitled, “McCain Loses his Head.” He wrote: “It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?”

Now that the election is over, Will is as outspoken and abrasive as ever. After more than 30 years as a columnist, his political commentary still garners much attention, including his recent trivialization of the realities of global warming. His political viewpoints deserve much criticism. Will sometimes finds himself at odds even with America’s most conservative politicians. Will’s way with words and willingness to attack his own party occasionally garners respect from progressives. But the temptation to trust his twisted reasoning shouldn’t fool them.

Campus Progress poured over a sampling of Will’s columns to doocument his conservative wrongheadedness.

On Global Warming:

Despite the scientific community’s consensus that global warming is the result of human activity, Will continues to downplay and even deny the impending environmental crisis. In a February 15 Washington Post column, “Dark Green Doomsayers,” Will insinuated that in a few decades global warming will be chalked up to little more than a scientific joke—a predicted calamity that never occurred. Will wrote, “Real calamities take our minds off hypothetical ones. Besides, according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade.” This is, of course, not what the WMO says. The Post’s editors have refused to publish a correction. Since the column’s publication, Will’s claims have been refuted by multiple sources including Andrew Revkin, a New York Times science writer. Yet, Will refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing. In a column he published today, Will accused Revkin and the Times of irresponsible journalism. He upholds his denial of global warming based on data from the Arctic Climate Research Center, a scientific organization that has publicly disavowed Will’s use of their information. The Arctic Climate Research Center data provides evidence of global warming. They recently found that winter rates of warming over portions of arctic land exceeded 5 degrees Celsius.

Will was simply taking a new look at an old stance on this issue. In an October 2007 Newsweek column, “An Inconvenient Price,” Will fronted Danish economist and “skeptical environmentalist” Bjørn Lomborg’s book, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming. While Will supported Lomborg’s claim that global warming is real, Will said the problem is not likely to be severe. Furthermore, Will agreed with Lomborg’s statement that many of global warming’s consequences will be beneficial and he concurred that the “exorbitant costs” of attempting to curtail warming will require vast sums of money, time, and resources and produce little recognizable gains. “If nations concert to impose antiwarming measures commensurate with the hyperbole about the danger,” Will wrote, “the damage to global economic growth could cause in this century more preventable death and suffering than was caused in the last century by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot combined.”

Will also claimed that moderate warming will save more lives than it will cost. Cutting carbon dioxide emissions to stop global warming, he said, will mean a large net loss of life globally. But Will’s claim is based on faulty logic. Millions of lives will experience the effects of rising temperatures. An increase in global temperatures is already leading to diminished air quality, contaminated drinking water, catastrophic weather events, and a host of other public health crises. According to a report (PDF) from the environmental group the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), increased temperatures may harm food and water supplies, leaving as many as 40 to 300 million additional people at risk of malnutrition from human-caused climate change by 2060.

On The Iraq War:

Will was one of the many journalists who blindly took the Bush administration at its word in the lead up to the Iraq war. In 2002 in the Jewish World Review, Will called a pre-emptive war against Iraq “morally defensible,” justified by Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and terrorist activity in Iraq. These are claims that were later proven false.

As the war progressed, Will changed his tune. He became a harsh critic of how the U.S. government acting during the conflict. In a September 2007 Washington Post column “The Army should do jobs it’s meant to do,” Will criticized the government for relying on military servicemen and -women to perform jobs typically filled by civilian Foreign Service employees—tasks military training does not prepare soldiers for. Will supported his point with material from the introduction to the University of Chicago’s edition of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

He wrote: “We see in Iraq ‘military doctrine attempting to fill a civilian vacuum.’”

Will has also lambasted the government for misleading the public on the success of the troop surge. In September 2007, Will said declaring the surge a sign of U.S. victory is a mistake that will further hinder progress in rebuilding Iraq. He wrote: “Many of those who insist the surge is a harbinger of U.S. victory in Iraq are making the same mistake they made in 1991, when they urged an advance on Baghdad, and again in 2003, when they underestimated the challenge of building democracy there. The mistake is exaggerating the relevance of U.S. military power to achieve political progress in a society driven by ethnic and sectarian hatreds. America’s military leaders, who are professional realists, do not make this mistake.”

On Gender (In)Equality:

In a February 1999 Chicago Sun-Times column, “Exposing Feminism’s Grand Myth,” Will praised anti-feminist writer Danielle Crittenden. Crittenden argued in her book What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us that feminists’ attempts to convince women that they are and can be equal to men lead to insecurity and depression. Crittenden, Will said, “[S]des with the anthropologist Lionel Tiger, who says dryly that if biology is not destiny it certainly is ‘good statistical probability.’” Thus, Crittenden encouraged women to recognize their sexual differences and appreciate the compromises biological difference demands. Crittenden recommended women focus on childrearing at the expense of working outside the home. Will wrote: “She recommends a progressive and, today, radical act: marrying early and promptly having children. They are ‘one’s connection to eternity’ and demonstrate ‘that we have loved and been loved, and brought into this world life that will outlast us.’ Not bad compensation for postponing a career.”

Telling women they must sacrifice their own careers to raise a family, while the man goes out to work doesn’t fit with reality. A September 2007 study released by the University of Pennsylvania claimed that women are less happy than men. But as the campus newspaper the Daily Pennsylvanian explained, the study said the happiness gap may be caused by societal changes in which women are finding “‘complexity and increased pressure in their modern lives to have come at the cost of happiness. The increased opportunity to succeed in many dimensions may have led to an increased likelihood of believing that one’s life is not measuring up.’” The article also quoted Sociologist and University of Pennsylvania Women’s Studies Program Co-Director Demie Kurz who said inflexible workplace standards could cause this increased stress. “Companies ‘make it very hard for people who are taking responsibility for their family, who are more often women than men, to manage their lives," she said. "The standards for childbearing have gotten much higher. You put those two things together and you get increased stress.” Kurz added that possible policy solutions include more available day-care and paid maternity leave.

A New American Foundation report released in 2007 echoes Kurz’s comments. The report found that if employers provided parents with flexible scheduling, more part-time shifts, extended time off and decreased hours, parents could better fulfill their duties to their employers and children. The report cited Wachovia, PNC, Kraft Food, JCPenny, and Jet Blue as just some of the companies who have successfully implemented workplace flexibility strategies.

In his own words:

“[W]hat public good is advanced by encouraging the participation of people who, by saying they require bilingual assistance, are saying they cannot understand the nation’s political conversation? … by ending bilingual ballots, American law would perform its expressive function of buttressing, by codifying and vivifying, certain national assumptions and aspirations. Among those is this: The idea of citizenship becomes absurd when sundered from the ability to understand the nation’s civic conversation.”

–“A Vote for English,” A reasonable request,” Washington Post May 26, 2006.

“Nature designed us as carnivores, but what does nature know about nature? Meat has been designated a menace. … Nitrous oxide in manure … and methane from animal flatulence … mean that a ‘16-ounce T-bone is like a Hummer on a plate.’”

-“Fuzzy Climate Math,” Washington Post, April 12, 2007.

“The entitlement mentality encouraged by the welfare state exacerbates social conflicts—between generations (the welfare state transfers wealth to the elderly), between racial and ethnic groups (through group preferences) and between all organized interests (from farmers to labor unions to recipients of corporate welfare) as government, not impersonal market forces, distributes scarce resources. This, conservatism insists, explains why as government has grown, so has cynicism about it.”

–“The Case for Conservatism,” Washington Post, May 31, 2007.

“In the lexicon of the political class, the word ‘sacrifice’ means that the citizens are supposed to mail even more of their income to Washington so that the political class will not have to sacrifice the pleasure of spending it.”

–“Agents of What Change” Newsweek, February 22, 1993

“The Republicans have now put themselves in a bind because people now say ‘look if we have Wall Street socialism whereby you save Bear Stearns—or at least save J.P. Morgan to buy Bear Stearns—and you are thereby socializing the losses and keeping the profits private, why not help everybody?’ Soon we’ll hear from everyone in the country that has a student loan! That’s a burden.”

–“This Week” with George Stephanopoulos, March 30, 2008 (see video below)

Sarah Karlin is an Editorial Intern at Campus Progress and a senior at George Washington University.

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