George Will bails

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A64323-2004May3?language=printer

Oh? Who?

Appearing Friday in the Rose Garden with Canada’s prime minister, President Bush was answering a reporter’s question about Canada’s role in Iraq when suddenly he swerved into this extraneous thought:

“There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren’t necessarily – are a different color than white can self-govern.”

What does such careless talk say about the mind of this administration? Note that the clearly implied antecedent of the pronoun “ours” is “Americans.” So the president seemed to be saying that white is, and brown is not, the color of Americans’ skin. He does not mean that. But that is the sort of swamp one wanders into when trying to deflect doubts about policy by caricaturing and discrediting the doubters.

Scott McClellan, the president’s press secretary, later said the president meant only that “there are some in the world that think that some people can’t be free” or “can’t live in freedom.” The president meant that “some Middle Eastern countries – that the people in those Middle Eastern countries cannot be free.”

Perhaps that, which is problematic enough, is what the president meant. But what he suggested was: Some persons – perhaps many persons; no names being named, the smear remained tantalizingly vague – doubt his nation-building project because they are racists.

That is one way to respond to questions about the wisdom of thinking America can transform the entire Middle East by constructing a liberal democracy in Iraq. But if any Americans want to be governed by politicians who short-circuit complex discussions by recklessly imputing racism to those who differ with them, such Americans do not usually turn to the Republican choice in our two-party system.

This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how “all people yearn to live in freedom” (McClellan). And about how it is “cultural condescension” to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a “myth” that “our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture” because “ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit” (Tony Blair).

Speaking of culture, as neoconservative nation-builders would be well-advised to avoid doing, Pat Moynihan said: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Here we reach the real issue about Iraq, as distinct from unpleasant musings about who believes what about skin color.

The issue is the second half of Moynihan’s formulation – our ability to wield political power to produce the requisite cultural change in a place such as Iraq. Time was, this question would have separated conservatives from liberals. Nowadays it separates conservatives from neoconservatives.

Condoleezza Rice, a political scientist, believes there is scholarly evidence that democratic institutions do not merely spring from a hospitable culture, but that they also can help create such a culture. She is correct; they can. They did so in the young American republic. But it would be reassuring to see more evidence that the administration is being empirical, believing that this can happen in some places, as opposed to ideological, believing that it must happen everywhere it is tried.

Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue. Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice.

In “On Liberty” (1859), John Stuart Mill said, “It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say” that the doctrine of limited, democratic government “is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties.” One hundred forty-five years later it obviously is necessary to say that.

Ron Chernow’s magnificent new biography of Alexander Hamilton begins with these of his subject’s words: “I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be.” That is the core of conservatism.

Traditional conservatism. Nothing “neo” about it. This administration needs a dose of conservatism without the prefix.

Man.

If I read this right, though, what Will is saying is that he’s against nation-building in Iraq because he thinks Iraqis are pretty much incapable, at least at this point in their cultural development/lives, of living in or maintaining a democracy. Is that right? Or is he saying that Iraqis just don’t want to live in a democracy (and is there any difference between those two statements)?

Assuming one of those points is the one he’s making, I just don’t see how he can make that sort of judgment. I know I’ve had similar thoughts from time to time–like when those contractors got mutiliated–but when I step back I realize that’s just emotional kneejerk reacting.

I think Will is arguing that the administration is putting blind faith in the concept that democracy will take root without putting the necessary groundwork into place that would buttress the democracy. Without developing the other institutions that give Iraqis trust in a democratic process, the administration is just mouthing platitudes and attributing motives to critics that they do not have.

Will does seem to be missing his usual focus in this editorial, though.

Troy

What TSG said. I’d say Iraq’s pretty fucking incapable of democracy at this point, but that’s because the country is composed of three groups with virtually no common links at all who hate each other. I’m sure if everyone had to pick they’d all pick “democracy”, but civil war and throwing out the US appear to higher priorities for them at the moment.

But if the three groups can find common ground in hating the U.S., they will have demonstrated that they can work together…

Zoinks, I think we’ve stumbled on a subtle neocon theory for promoting democracy…love one another, because we all agree Americans piss us off!

blah blah blah on the rest but… damn!

There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren’t necessarily – are a different color than white can self-govern

So he is pretty much saying the US is white only in its rule? While maybe not far from the truth, damn, mix that with his compassion pictures only showing blacks, I gotta wonder how many times he washes his hands after shaking hands with Powell.

Chet

There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern.

Jesus, Bush is a crappy public speaker and all, but that really takes the cake. The guy just stood up and said America is white people.

Just keep giving him more rope between now and November…

 -Tom

Tom… I don’t think that’s a rope that will hang him in the eyes of his supporters. (or even people who are vaguely considering voting for him)To them, he’s just a straight shooter telling it like it is. And we are all white, right? Well, me and all my friends are, so that’s all of us, right?

As a white man, I am offended by the ofay muthafuckas in Washington.

That makes sense.

That doesn’t. :P

That doesn’t. :P[/quote]

Heh heh!

Tom… I don’t think that’s a rope that will hang him in the eyes of his supporters.

Absolutely, Anax. Nothing would. But this election will be all about the middle ground. If Bush keeps letting slip that he thinks of America as a nation of white people, that’s just that much more of the middle ground he’s alienated.

 -Tom

The question is how the Dems would make that point, and whether anyone of those middle ground people would pay attention. Or would they secretly say, “Yeah, whatever, but that war on terror, it’s more critical than a cracker saying crackers run the country.”

The question is how the Dems would make that point, and whether anyone of those middle ground people would pay attention.

True. It is basically much ado about nothing, and I’m sure there are people making sure Bush doesn’t let slip another crack like that.

But the fact remains that there are plenty of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Persians, Arabs, and so forth in the middle ground who would take issue with the characterization of America as a nation whose skin color is distinct from the people of Iraq.

 -Tom

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16108-2004May10.html

Calls for Rumsfeld to resign. Man, he is pissed.

Edit: I meant Will is pissed.

He’s pissed? Where have you seen that? All the stuff I’ve read portrays him as tired & worn out.

But if you’re right… man, what a dick. Apparently “I bear full responsibility” doesn’t entail actually suffering any repurcussions for what happens. I have to wonder… what exactly does “responsibility” mean to that man?

Same thing it meant to Janet Reno.

American officials don’t really resign when they take responsibility.

There’s been about two since 1960.

http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2004_05_07.shtml#1084217048

Superb analysis. As admirable as it is to hold to the dream of “all people want freedom”, it would be nice if the administration would address the substance of the arguments against that point rather than circumventing it by unthinkingly imputing racist motive to those who advance them. Especially considering the fact that a) evidence could be interpreted to indicate that many Iraqis have no interest in self-government and b) forcing democracy is impossible.

Ironic, though, how this thread started with Will railing against the tendency to thoughtlessly impute racist motives to those with whom one disagrees as a means of discrediting them rather than taking on the points with which you disagree, and it turned into an echo chamber of people who dislike the President’s policies accusing him of being a racist.

You’re right, I can’t imagine how Bush implying the US is entirely a nation of white people was racist on his part.