George F.

Stories by George F. Will

  • The Sound Of Bakersfield

    Bakersfield, Calif.--Buck Owens came to this city, 100 miles north of Los Angeles, at the southern end of the prodigiously fertile San Joaquin Valley, to pick cotton, not a guitar. He came for the same reason lots of others came west from Texas and Oklahoma: happiness was the Dust Bowl in their rearview mirrors.The Owens family's rearview mirror was on a 1933 Ford sedan. In 1937, when Buck was 8 and John Steinbeck was just beginning to write "The Grapes of Wrath," 10 Owens family members packed into it and headed west. His parents had been sharecroppers on the southern side of the Red River that separates Texas from Oklahoma. Because the trailer hitch broke in Phoenix, the family lived there for a few years, sometimes traveling to the San Joaquin to pick carrots in Porterville, peaches in Modesto, potatoes and cotton in Bakersfield. During such work he got the idea that picking a guitar might be more fun.Which he is doing at 73, in his Crystal Palace nightclub, where he recently...
  • 'Electronic Morphine'

    On the North bank of the Ohio River sits Evansville, Ind., home of David Williams, 52, and of a riverboat casino. During several years of gambling in that casino, Williams, a state auditor earning $35,000 a year, lost approximately $175,000. He had never gambled before the casino sent him a coupon for $20 worth of gambling.He visited the casino, lost the $20 and left. On his second visit he lost $800. The casino issued to him, as a good customer, a "Fun Card," which when used in the casino earns points for meals and drinks, and enables the casino to track the user's gambling activities. For Williams, those activities became what he calls "electronic morphine."By the time he had lost $5,000 he said to himself that if he could get back to even, he would quit. One night he won $5,500, but he did not quit. In 1997 he lost $21,000 to one slot machine in two days. In March 1997 he lost $72,186. He sometimes played two slot machines at a time, all night, until the boat docked at 5 a.m.,...
  • Jimmy Carter, Disappointed

    Jimmy Carter, whose reputation as a better ex-president than president constitutes damnation with the faintest possible praise, is a Christian whose services to his faith include making vivid the scarlet sin of pride. He is serenely and incorrigibly convinced that even seemingly intractable international conflicts are actually mere misunderstandings that can be cured by exposing the world's most obdurate rulers and regimes to the sweet reasonableness and sheer goodness of himself. So in 1994, having spent less than 90 hours in North Korea, he announced that in those hours he had solved the pesky little problem of North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Doubtless this was one of the achievements for which Carter was recently honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.There can be a serendipitous time to receive terrible news, and last week, while Carter was still luxuriating in his warm bath of post-Nobel praise, came a cold shower--news that North Korea's drive to become a nuclear power, a drive...
  • Optimism And The Economy

    The cupboard where democrats store their adjectives must be nearly bare. "Tragic, deplorable, abysmal" and "atrocious" is Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's description of the economy. "Stumbling, staggering, faltering," says Nevada's Sen. Harry Reid, who plays Sancho Panza to Daschle's Don Quixote--Reid is majority whip. But there is something Quixotic about their effort to make the economy, rather than war, the focus of this election season.Last week Al Gore, whose words are coy but whose behavior is not regarding his quest for the Democrats' presidential nomination, gave a speech criticizing President Bush's economic policy. But Gore's speech was eclipsed hours later when Bush, standing with House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Gore's 2000 running mate, likely rivals of Gore for the nomination, announced a bipartisan resolution about the use of force against Iraq.Gore said Bush's economic policy is ruinous. However, the essence of that policy is the 10...
  • Etchings And Then Posters

    President Theodore Roosevelt explained how he helped his secretary of war, William Howard Taft, campaign to succeed him: "I told him he must treat the political audience as one coming, not to see an etching, but a poster." Bold strokes, bright colors. We are entering a poster phase of the Iraq debate.The etching phase has been a litany of technicalities concerning United Nations resolutions not complied with. Now come other matters. The poster phase began with the president's U.N. speech, in which he accused Saddam Hussein of widespread "torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation, mutilation and rape. Wives are tortured in front of their husbands, children in the presence of their parents."In this departure from the focus on weapons of mass destruction, the president was amplifying a theme--Saddam's personal viciousness--that will recur. An Iraqi doctor living in exile testifies that all the doctors at the hospital he worked at were ordered to participate in the...
  • Politics And The 'Ideopolis'

    In this autumn's elections, a tendency is in tension with a rarity. The party holding the presidency has lost House seats in 32 of the 34 off-year (non- presidential) elections since the Civil War. So the Republicans' majority in a House divided 223-210 is in danger. But rarely do parties gain seats in four consecutive elections. Democrats gained in the last three.A shift of six seats would make Dick Gephardt speaker, but could make George W. Bush's re-election easier. He could blame Democratic control of Congress for all discontents. And if Democrats control both houses, re-electing Bush would satisfy the voters' preference for divided government, which they have produced in 13 of the last 17 elections.However, in an eye-opening new book, "The Emerging Democratic Majority," John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, both Democrats, argue that whatever happens in November, powerful demographic and social currents will soon produce what their title announces. If that majority materializes, its...
  • Another Pose Of Rectitude

    George Orwell's axiom about intellectuals--that some ideas are so silly that only intellectuals will embrace them--needs a corollary that covers U.S. senators: No international agreement is so grandiose in its ambitions and so unclear about the obligations it imposes that it cannot receive the support of many U.S. senators. Consider the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has again, as in 1994, endorsed CEDAW, which the United Nations adopted in 1979. By now 170 countries have accepted its provisions, such as the obligation to "take all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women."Such unlikely exponents of advanced feminism as...
  • The Nature Of Human Nature

    -Adolph EichmannThese are the best of times for the worst of people. And for the toxic idea at the core of all the most murderous ideologies of the modern age. That idea is that human nature is, if not a fiction, at least so watery and flimsy that it poses no serious impediment to evil political entities determined to treat people as malleable clay to be molded into creatures at once submissive and violent.All political philosophies rest on notions of human nature. And what we think human nature is--indeed, whether we think there is such a thing--depends somewhat on conclusions we draw from political events, such as these: A mother rejoicing that her teenage child has blown herself up in the process of blowing up other mothers' children. A Palestinian infant dressed as a suicide bomber--parents will have glittering dreams for their children.There was violence, but there were not suicide bombers with celebrating choruses, when Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority thugocracy began its...
  • Hog Heaven: Harley At 100

    Milwaukee--in 1903, young men (the hyperkinetic president was just 45) were on the move. The Wright brothers--Wilbur, 36, and Orville, 32--left their bicycle shop in Dayton to take their 12-second, 120-foot flight at Kitty Hawk. And William Harley, 21, and Arthur Davidson, 20, working in a 10-by-15-foot shed here, built a motorcycle. On the eve of its centennial, the company born in that shed is spectacularly successful, and one of America's best-known brands. No American company has such devoted customers.The Information Superhighway is littered with the wreckage of New Economy companies. But America's real highways are humming with the distinctive sound of an iconic Old Economy product--Harley-Davidsons. Their sound (think potato-potato-potato) is so beloved by enthusiasts that the company tried to have it declared a trademark.Last weekend the company began a 14-month-long 100th-birthday bash. It has much to celebrate, including increases in production of more than 10 percent...
  • One Nation Under Judges

    Last week was replete with reminders that there was something to be said for the Ninth Circuit Court's ruling that there is something wrong with the Pledge of Allegiance's assertion that this is "one nation under God." But that court, famously imaginative and frequently reversed, got wrong what is wrong. The phrase "under God" hardly constitutes "establishment" of religion. But it is inaccurate: this is one nation under judges.Although conservatives, especially, were apoplectic about the circuit court's (doubtless short-lived) decision, it has aroused wholesome indignation about the too-central role of judges in the nation's governance. And conservatives, especially, were pleased last week by the Supreme Court's decision to get out of the way of states and localities that want school-choice programs that empower parents to choose to direct public tuition money to religious schools.Largely lost sight of in the swirling controversy surrounding those decisions was a third, which also...
  • Elias Knows Everything

    Last Monday Nancy and Henry Kissinger arrived at a Manhattan restaurant at 8:10 p.m. and excitedly recounted what they had just listened to in their car: a Yankee rookie in his first major league at-bat had hit a home run off a fearsome pitcher--the Diamondbacks' Randy Johnson, who is 6 feet 10 and looks like a giant praying mantis with an attitude.Before the Kissingers had time to examine their menus, some baseball commentators were reporting that this was the first time since 1986 that a player in his first major league at-bat had homered against a likely future Hall of Famer (Will Clark off Nolan Ryan) and the first time ever that a player homered in his first at-bat off a pitcher who the previous season won the Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in his league.Who tells us such things lickety-split? The busy beavers at the Elias Sports Bureau.On a Saturday evening last month the Devil Rays scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Orioles, 6-4, thereby snapping a 15...
  • A Train Wreck Called Title Ix

    On this 30th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX, the law prohibiting sexual discrimination in education, consider this: has even more nonsense been written about Title IX than has been committed in its name?Title IX, as adumbrated by ideology-besotted Education Department regulation writers, has produced this lunacy:Colleges have killed more than 400 men's athletic teams in order to produce precise proportionality between men's and women's enrollments and men's and women's rates of participation in athletics. And Title IX has given rise to a huge "gender equity" industry of lawyers, sensitivity-trainers and consciousness-raisers.The industry prefers the word "gender" to "sex" because "sex" suggests immutable differences, while "gender" suggests differences that are "socially constructed" and can be erased by sufficiently determined social engineers. The story of the policy train wreck that Title IX has become in the hands of such engineers, and of further misadventures that...
  • Being Green At Ben &Amp; Jerry's

    If you have an average-size dinner table, four feet by six feet, put a dime on the edge of it. Think of the surface of the table as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The dime is larger than the piece of the coastal plain that would have been opened to drilling for oil and natural gas. The House of Representatives voted for drilling, but the Senate voted against access to what Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and presidential aspirant, calls "a few drops of oil." ANWR could produce, for 25 years, at least as much oil as America currently imports from Saudi Arabia.Six weeks of desultory Senate debate about the energy bill reached an almost comic culmination in... yet another agriculture subsidy. The subsidy is a requirement that will triple the amount of ethanol, which is made from corn, that must be put in gasoline, ostensibly to clean America's air, actually to buy farmers' votes.Over the last three decades, energy use has risen about 30 percent. But so has...
  • Powell's Path To Jerusalem

    Last week The Washington Post reported "the belief held by many Israelis that the recent suicide bombings are an example of anti-Jewish violence." Those who hold this "belief" reject alternative explanations of the violence, such as: The terrorists are targeting Brazilians but are confused about which hemisphere they are in.Intellectual confusion and moral miasma, expressed in Orwellian language, now permeate U.S. policy and media coverage concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hence the entire war on terrorism is out of kilter. Can an administration that is jerked around like a small poodle on a short leash held by Yasir Arafat mount a major war to change the Iraqi regime? The administration's position is that Arafat is not a terrorist, he is a plausible peacemaker. So how does the administration convince Bush's "mighty coalition" (which is mightily wary of war with Iraq, even one in which it is merely a spectator) that Saddam Hussein is unregenerate and intolerable?Stroking...
  • Israel And The Bush Doctrine

    Fox News broadcast President Bush's speech in Georgia on Wednesday afternoon live, a few hours after a suicide bomber perpetrated the Passover massacre in a hotel in Netanya, Israel. During part of the speech, Fox used a split screen--Bush speaking on one side, while the other side showed pictures of the aftermath of the blast that blew body parts 50 yards from the hotel. Bush could not have known that he was being seen on a split screen as he said this:"I laid out a doctrine and it's really important for when the United States speaks it means what they say. And I said that if you harbor a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist; if you feed one or hide one, you're just as guilty as those who came and murdered thousands of innocent Americans. It's an important part of any foreign policy to do what you say you're going to do, and we did. Thanks to the mighty United States military, the Taliban no longer is in power."The juxtaposition of Bush's statement and the pictures of...
  • DROPPING THE 'ONE DROP' RULE

    It is probably the most pernicious idea ever to gain general acceptance in America. No idea has done more, and more lasting, damage than the "one drop" rule, according to which if you have any admixture of black ancestry, you are black, period. This idea imparted an artificial clarity to the idea of race, and became the basis of the laws, conventions and etiquette of slavery, then of segregation and subsequently of today's identity politics, in which one's civic identity is a function of one's race (or ethnicity, or gender, or sexual preference).Today nothing more scaldingly reveals the intellectual bankruptcy and retrograde agenda of the institutionalized--fossilized, really--remnants of the civil-rights movement than this: those remnants constitute a social faction clinging desperately to the "one drop" rule, or some inchoate and unarticulated version of that old buttress of slavery and segregation. However, in California, where much of modern America has taken shape, a revolt is...
  • Virtue At Last! (In November)

    Presidential Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, pioneering new frontiers of fatuity, says some parts of the Shays-Meehan campaign-finance bill please his boss and others do not. "But ultimately the process is moving forward, and the president is pleased." Ultimately, in Washington, the celebration of "process" signals the abandonment of principle. ...
  • Soft Money, Odd Thinking

    Rep. Richard Gephardt set a winter indoor record for audacious arguing when he wrung this lesson from the Enron debacle: "The real scandal here may not be what the administration did to help Enron, but what it avoided doing because it was concerned that the campaign contributions created the appearance of conflict." Political people are adroit at arguing that anything and everything that happens, or does not happen, demonstrates the wisdom of whatever they want. Many in the media, too, want stricter campaign-finance laws, meaning tighter government regulation of political communication by everyone except the media. Media coverage of Enron relentlessly stresses how many legislators received campaign contributions from "Enron." Small wonder people think the corporation itself gave vast sums to candidates. But the total of the corporation's contributions to candidates was: 0. Corporate contributions to federal candidates have been illegal since 1907. ...
  • 'Events, Dear Boy, Events'

    When Harold Macmillan became Britain's prime minister, he was asked what would determine his government's course. He replied with Edwardian languor: "Events, dear boy, events." As he well knew. An event--the 1956 Suez debacle--had catapulted him into 10 Downing Street. An event--the sex-and-spies Profumo scandal--would grease the skids under him in 1963. ...
  • John Nash's Renunciation

    A quaint ceremonious village" is how an elderly villager, Albert Einstein, described Princeton. There, in 1948, a first-year graduate student from West Virginia dropped by Einstein's office to suggest improvements to the great man's understanding of quantum theory. Einstein was polite but unpersuaded by John Forbes Nash Jr. ...
  • 2001: Ring The Bells Backward

    On the morning of September 11, commuters heading for World Trade Center offices read New York Times front-page headlines about the arrest of a person charged with hijacking an airliner from Canada to Cuba 30 years ago, and about rumored smuggling of nuclear materials in Central Asia. And about attempts to regulate displays of bare midriffs and cleavage in a New Jersey high school. Northern Virginia commuters driving past the Pentagon carried Washington Posts with a front-page headline about--you may remember this short-lived creature--the budget surplus. Sept. 10 had been a slow news day.Year 2001 began just after dueling supreme courts, Florida's and the nation's, settled one of the strangest presidential elections. The president inaugurated on Jan. 20 would, conventional wisdom said, be unable to lead. On Sept. 20, he spoke to a joint session of Congress, and conventional wisdom changed.Year 2001 ended with perhaps the most remarkable demonstration of military might in American,...
  • The Waning Of 'Terror Chic'

    Radiating ripples from September 11 washed over a Los Angeles courtroom last week when an American pleaded guilty to terrorism. She was charged with attempting, 26 years ago, to kill Los Angeles police officers by attaching pipe bombs to two patrol cars--bombs stuffed with heavy nails. Immediately after pleading guilty she stepped outside the courtroom and said she was innocent but could not get a fair trial in the climate created by September 11. Many "progressives" consider her a martyr.Although neither the prosecution nor the defense requested it, a judge will hold a hearing this week to consider what, if anything, he can or should do about her disavowal of her plea. Her lawyer says "she meant she is not guilty of holding the bombs and planting them, but that she is guilty of aiding and abetting." If her plea stands, she can be sentenced to at least five years in prison, and perhaps much longer. However, if there is a trial it would usefully reacquaint Americans with a radicalism...
  • A Rehearsal For Killing Osama

    "The rules have changed," said President Bush as he put the U.S. military on a path to participation, with some unpleasant people employing savage tactics, in an extraordinary manhunt. The target was the world's most notorious criminal--someone who had ordered many terrorist acts, and whose fatal mistake involved attacking commercial aviation. The president spoke in 1989.The criminal was Pablo Escobar of Medellin, Colombia, who in 1989 was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the world's richest men. His business was cocaine. In conducting business he made war against his nation's government, killing thousands--innocent bystanders, policemen, military officers and political leaders, including a presidential candidate.In an attempt to kill that candidate's successor, he gave an underling a briefcase, directing him to throw a toggle switch that supposedly would activate a tape recorder to eavesdrop on the passenger seated next to him on an Avianca flight. The switch detonated a bomb...
  • War, The Health Of The State

    It is just 10 years since the senate barely passed, 52-47, the resolution authorizing the use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Tom Daschle, now majority leader; Joseph Biden, now chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Carl Levin, now chairman of the Armed Services Committee, were among the 47. It is just seven months since a commission chaired by former senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman said "a direct attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter century."It is just three weeks since the nation's political arguments were about micromatters such as apportioning blame for an economic slowdown that had not yet produced even one quarter of contraction. And about competitive worship of a bookkeeping fiction (the Social Security trust fund). And about who can sue whom, and where, and for how much (the patient's bill of rights). Time flies.The political class has responded well to the crisis, which has obliterated both parties' plans by...
  • About Cocaine And Bananas

    Asa Hutchinson cannot be accused of skating across the pond of life in search of easy jobs. While a congressman from Arkansas, he was a manager of the House impeachment case against a popular president from Arkansas. Now Hutchinson is head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and when he leaves that position many people will say, "Well, that didn't work."No matter what this wise and experienced man does--no matter how imaginative his mixture of measures to dampen demand for drugs and disrupt the supply of them--a decade from now there will be complaints that drug policy has not "worked" because the "war" on drugs has not been "won." (The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 promised "a drug-free America by 1995.") Then, as now, many will say that legalization would do less harm than current policies do.We do need some new policies--but we also need a more sensible notion of what constitutes "working." Here success comes only in shades of gray, but is not for that reason derisory.The...
  • A Surplus Of Surplus-Fetish

    What we have here is a difference of opinion. Last week the Bush administration announced that, primarily because of the economic slowdown, the budget surplus for this fiscal year--which ends in five weeks; Congress has passed none of the 13 appropriations bills for this year--would be $158 billion rather than the $281 billion projected four months ago. Mitch Daniels, Bush's budget director, said not to worry: "The nation is awash in money and is going to be." But Kent Conrad, Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said, "This is fiscal mismanagement big time."It is axiomatic that everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts, so what are the pertinent facts? Here are three. The economic slowdown began around June 2000. That the budget is still in surplus is not only remarkable, it is probably unwise. And the bipartisan fetish (Oxford English Dictionary: "something irrationally reverenced") about "preserving" the Social Security surplus is quite new...
  • Beach Reading Without Guilt

    Neither Dostoevsky Nor Danielle Steel, Here Are Some Worthy Books You Can Spill Coppertone On
  • Bush's America Is Working

    Washington's conventional wisdom, which often is the wishful thinking in its media culture, is that George W. Bush's presidency is floundering. But as he passes the six-month mark, only one eighth of the way through his term, his serenity seems grounded in some favorable developments.The two most important votes Congress will cast this year have gone as Bush wished and the media did not. One passed his tax cut. The other killed campaign-finance reform--the plan for government rationing of the political speech of everyone except the media.A Washington wit called the defeat of that reform in the House of Representatives a victory for Laura Bush's campaign to promote reading. John McCain's threat to disrupt the Senate unless it acted on his bill, and Bush's refusal to say he would veto it, forced House members to actually read the legislation. Twice before they had passed it, confident that the Senate would kill it. Suddenly their vote was more serious than a genuflection toward the...
  • July 10, 1941, In Jedwabne

    Sixty years ago, on July 10, 1941, half the Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half. Of 1,600 Jews, about a dozen survived. Why did the murderers do it? Prof. Jan Gross of New York University may not fully realize that he has found the answer.It is in his astonishing little book (173 pages of text) just published by Princeton University Press. The title, "Neighbors," is an ice dagger to the heart, but only after the book has been read. The word "neighbor" connotes moral sympathy ("neighborly") as well as physical proximity. But not on July 10, 1941, in Jedwabne.Gross says, "This is a rather typical book about the Holocaust" because it does not offer "closure"--"I could not say to myself when I got to the last page, 'Well, I understand now'." Perhaps he is flinching from the awful answer his book supplies.On June 22, 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union, which was occupying the part of Poland containing Jedwabne. On June 23 a small detachment of Germans entered the town....
  • 'We Have Been Here Before'

    Columbus, an Italian, arrived in the new World with a crew of less than 100 composed of Spaniards, Portuguese, some Jews who had been expelled from Spain, some convicts and an Arab brought along to translate anticipated conversations with Chinese and Japanese--remember where Columbus thought he was going. Now, about this new American thing, "diversity."Concerning which, Michael Barone says, "We have been here before." As when Benjamin Franklin, a worrywart, doubted that the Germans who were 40 percent of Pennsylvanians could be assimilated. It is generally wise to believe Barone, the author every two years of "The Almanac of American Politics," and now of a new book, "The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again." To those who say that traditionally white-bread America has suddenly become multigrain, Barone says: Fiddlesticks.America, he says, has always been multigrain. The so-called white-bread America of the 1950s was the ephemeral result of a 1924 law that, viewed...
  • Italy's 59Th Post-War Try

    Italians have selected a new government, and politically fastidious people throughout the North Atlantic community are saying the Italians did not do it quite right. It is Italy's 59th government since the Second World War. Silvio Berlusconi, 64, the richest Italian, will be prime minister. Before Italians voted two Sundays ago, they were hectored by editorial harrumphing from European newspapers, urging them not to do what they then blithely did in choosing Berlusconi. You will not be astonished to learn that he is a conservative. ...
  • 'Moderates' V. Madisonians

    During the Second World War the allies used "bomber streams," sending so many bombers so rapidly over a particular point on the ground--sometimes 40 or more per minute--that German air defenses were overwhelmed by the profusion of targets. Now comes, for a similar reason, President Bush's "judicial-nominee streams," as he begins trying to fill, in the teeth of flak from Senate Democrats, 101 vacancies on federal courts. ...