Media, Philosophy, Politics, Washington Post

George Will, High Priest of the GOP’s Cult of Personality

George Will

George Will’s Washington Post column this Sunday was a panegyric in Texas Governor Rick Perry’s honor:

Perry would rather not run, but his wife, who has a nursing background and is alarmed by Obamacare, says that sometimes desires are secondary to duties. Perry, who sensibly did not watch the Republicans’ recent New Hampshire debate because the Aggies were on ESPN playing Florida State in the NCAA baseball tournament, says, “I’m a long way from being a candidate.” But he did not finish the hamburger. Perhaps he is in training for something strenuous.

Get that? Perry’s humble! He’s a sports fan! He’s a red meat man’s man! He’s sensible! The GOP’s presidential field is less interesting than college baseball! Erm, ignore that last one! Nothing to see here (Though if you watched the debate, you already know that there was—quite literally—nothing to see.)! The GOP is a strong and vibrant party with a big tent!

Forget Perry for now. Let’s talk about Will’s starry-eyed flattery.

This year, Will has written a handful of profile-raiser columns for Republicans like Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), Texas GOP senatorial candidate Ted Cruz, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.), Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (R), Ohio Governor John Kasich (R), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R), and others.

The formats of these profiles are almost identical: Will offers homespun and down-to-earth slices from his subject’s biographies (when available, he especially likes to point out that the pol grew up poor, in a Democratic household) to showcase their unique personal qualities. “See?” he seems to be plaintively saying, “These are NOT your normal Republicans! They are ‘exceptional Texans’ and ‘wrestler budget cutters’ and ‘Rust Belt revolutionaries’ and ‘conservative populists!’ They are different!”

For a genuinely top-notch intellect like Will, this is unseemly at best, and inappropriate at worst. Even a novice like me knows that journalists shouldn’t be writing to provide free publicity in the form of unalloyed praise for political figures. Will’s obsessive promotion campaign smacks of desperation.

"This Daniels kid has a really smooth delivery, even with his height problem."

Perhaps that’s the key. It doesn’t take very complicated psychoanalysis to figure this out. With his Princeton PhD and academic background, Will must be horrified by the puerile state of American conservatism. If the Palins, Bachmanns, Cains, Santorums (though Will covered him too), and Gingriches of the world aren’t receding into the background on their own, Will seems to be embarked on a sustained campaign to anoint a crowd of saviors for the Republican Party. Pundits have dismissed the Republicans’ “weak minor league system” for years now. Will, one of America’s most famous baseball fans, is sending scouting reports from the GOP field (and doing a little AA-tier coaching, I’m sure).

Even as a progressive, I’m happy to acknowledge that this could be worthwhile work. If the GOP is beset by the cult of personality, if they cannot shake the aforementioned demagogues from their system, if they have few compelling solutions for America’s problems (largely caused by policies from the last GOP presidential administration), SOMEONE needs to build up admiration for more reasonable demagogues. SOMEONE needs to found the Cult of Perry, the Cult of Upton, and so on and so forth. SOMEONE needs to revive the sensible, moderate wing of American conservatism. This might (almost) be noble. The country would be much better off with a responsible Republican Party.

The problem, though, is that this SOMEONE should be an conservative activist or a Republican party leader—NOT a Washington Post columnist. NOT a news analyst. NOT George Will.

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June 2011
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