Stories by George F. Will

  • 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. ...
  • Wow! Or Maybe Just Sort Of.

    Victoria Will, Princeton sophomore, is in her dormitory room noodling on her computer when it says "ding." Glancing at its screen, she says, matter-of-factly, "Bettina is sending me a message." Ms. Will's father, assuming Bettina is a friend e-mailing from another college, asks, "Where is Bettina?" Ms. Will points to the wall in front of her: "Next door." Why, asks her father, doesn't Bettina just walk the 10 feet to Ms. Will's room? Ms. Will's answer, a look of bemused condescension, expresses her opinion that the question betrays an antiquated person's incomprehension of the New. ...
  • A Diamond In Orange County

    Tempe, Ariz.--Out here where the desert sun almost makes the dry air crinkle like cellophane, the best baseball player you know next to nothing about is preparing for his fourth full season. His team does its spring training in Diablo Stadium. That figures. The Angels have had a diabolical history. ...
  • James Madison Remembered

    There is no monument to James Madison in Washington. There is a tall, austere monument to the tall (6"2"), austere man for whom the city is named, a man of Roman virtues and eloquent reticence. There is a Greek-revival memorial to Madison's boon companion, the tall (6"2"), elegant, eloquent Jefferson, who is to subsequent generations the most charismatic of the Founders. But there is no monument to the smallest (5"4") but subtlest of the Founders, without whose mind Jefferson's Declaration and Washington's generalship could not have resulted in this republic. ...
  • The Ultimate Emancipation

    Immediately after his confirmation by the senate, during which he was pilloried as racially "insensitive," John Ashcroft crossed First Street NE to the Supreme Court to be sworn in as attorney general by a friend, Justice Clarence Thomas. Ashcroft has named as deputy attorney general Larry D. Thompson, a black conservative who, testifying for Thomas at the 1991 confirmation circus, reminded senators and civil-rights groups opposed to Thomas that "black Americans need not and should not think alike." Recently, Thomas, in a Washington lecture, deplored the suffocating "orthodoxy" and "canon" regarding race, and "the silence of self-censorship." ...
  • After Barak: Benign Neglect

    Charles de Gaulle, lamenting the fractiousness of the French, famously wondered, "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?" De Gaulle should have tried dealing with the Israelis. Israel, with more than a dozen feuding parties, is a country in which some people seem to care most about making sure there is no bus service on the Sabbath, and some care most about seeing that there is such service. There is truth in the jest that two Israelis can generate three factions.However, given sufficient provocation, Israelis can produce an emphatic electoral outcome. Provoked by Prime Minister Ehud Barak's astonishing concessions to the Palestinians (95 percent of the West Bank, division of Jerusalem) and by the Palestinians' contemptuous and violent response to the concessions, Israelis cashiered Barak, replacing him with Ariel Sharon, who says that the Oslo "peace process," begun nearly eight years ago, is dead. Since the "process" began, 550 Israelis have died in the...
  • 'Let Us...'? No, Give It A Rest.

    Come Saturday, on the Capitol's west front, the 43d president, immediately after becoming such, will look out, figuratively speaking (and as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote at the conclusion of "The Great Gatsby"), toward "the dark fields of the republic" rolling on, and will unburden himself of his inaugural thoughts. Whatever they are, and whatever his manner of expressing them, the event will supply evidence of the evolution of the nation's preoccupations and sensibilities.His Inaugural Address, the nation's 54th, presumably will make no reference, as Monroe's did, to coastal fortifications, and no reference to polygamy, which Garfield's said "offends the moral sense of manhood" and Cleveland's said is "destructive of the family relation and offensive to the moral sense of the civilized world." We have come a long way, in every way, from the day when the first Inaugural Address was delivered in the Senate chamber of Federal Hall on Wall Street on the inhabited southern tip of Manhattan...
  • 'Peace Psychosis' In The Mideast

    Bill Clinton may have saved his very worst for last. With remarkable--even for him--self-absorption, as he tap-dances toward the exit he is pursuing as his crowning legacy something that only the cynical or delusional could call a "final" Middle East "peace agreement." In three weeks Clinton will be gone, leaving intensified Middle East chaos for others to cope with.Israel's Ehud Barak has resigned as prime minister, triggering Feb. 6 elections that polls indicate he will lose in a landslide. For him, the long term is five weeks. Yet by then he hopes to have achieved a "permanent" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is now in its sixth decade. Yasir Arafat founded the Palestine National Liberation Movement, committed to Israel's destruction, when Eisenhower was president and Ben-Gurion was Israel's prime minister. Through 14 Israeli prime ministries and nine U.S. presidencies, Arafat has remained so committed.It has come to this: Clinton has asked Barak--who has a...
  • Y2k: You Must Remember This

    The Florida peninsula, the last part of the continental United States to emerge from the ocean, has been called a geological afterthought. This year caused many Americans to curse geology and wish that the afterthought had gone unthought. A wit says that before Nov. 7 Al Gore argued that his opponent was a nitwit, and after Nov. 7 he argued that his voters were nitwits. George W. Bush warned people not to "misunderestimate" him, but the 36-day Election Day showed that Gore did. The baseball team Bush used to own a bit of gave shortstop Alex Rodriguez a 10-year contract worth a minimum of $252 million, enough to buy the Twins and the Expos and have about $72 million in change left.When Chicago named a street Hugh Hefner Way, an incensed man got a street in his Chicago suburb temporarily named Alan Greenspan Way. Call the behavior police: a Washington gala celebrating the 35th anniversary of Medicare featured 102-year-old Mark Powell, who said he smokes five or six cigars a day. The...
  • 'Had 'Em All The Way!'

    NEW YORK (AP)--The New York Mets announced today that they are going to court to get an additional inning added to the end of Game 5 of the World Series. "We meant to hit those pitches from the Yankee pitchers," said the Mets batting coach. "We were confused by the irregularities of the pitches we received and believe we have been denied our right to hit." Another portion of the Mets legal claim stated that, based on on-base percentage, the Mets had actually won the World Series, regardless of the final scores of games. "It's clear that we were slightly on base more often than the Yankees," said a Mets spokesman. "The World Series crown is rightly ours."Years ago, when the Pittsburgh Pirates would win a wild one--say, scoring four in the bottom of the ninth of a 14-13 seesaw thriller--their bumptious broadcaster, Bob Prince, would exclaim, "Had 'em all the way!" There will be no such bravado from whomever it is that the last dimpled chad turns into the 43d president.It is too late...
  • Oh, Swell: New York Wins Again

    Only in America. in a year in which presidential politics is a Horatio Alger story, proving that a Yale-educated son of a president can grow up to run for president against a Harvard-educated son of a senator, the national pastime is proving that two teams from New York, each with a payroll the size of the GDP of a medium-size Third World nation, can get to the World Series. Is this a great country or what?Listen up, New York. Not that you, in your self-absorption, give a damn, but this is how the rest of us feel about your October party: A wit who disliked both Thomas Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle said that it was good of God to arrange for the two of them to marry so that only two people instead of four would be made miserable. For America west of the Hudson, the best thing about a Subway Series is that it guarantees that millions of New York baseball fans--the followers of whichever team loses--are going to be depressed.A Subway Series is particularly galling to us geezers who were...
  • A Question For Gore Next Week

    Mr. Vice President, do you favor passage of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, or do you believe, as your supporters at the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) do, that a woman who seeks an abortion has an indefeasible right to a dead baby, no matter what?" Here is the story behind that question, which George W. Bush should ask Al Gore next week during the first debate.The act, authored by Rep. Charles Canady, Republican of Florida, would extend the law's protections--would protect the right to life--to infants who survive abortions. Such babies sometimes are born as a result of abortions sought because the babies have (or sometimes are mistakenly thought to have) defects like Down syndrome or spina bifida. The House committee that passed Canady's bill 22 to 1 heard heart-rending testimony about born-alive babies being discarded alive into soiled hospital linen or left on a baby scale, unattended, without warmth or nourishment, their hearts beating...
  • A Hamiltonian Moment Again?

    On Aug. 28 Joseph Lieberman said: "Isn't Medicare coverage of prescription drugs really about the values of the Fifth Commandment: Honor your father and mother?" On Sept. 5 George W. Bush said: "By history and by choice, our nation makes a promise: We will honor our fathers and mothers by providing quality health insurance to every senior citizen." The battle is joined.At times it seems to be largely a battle between reactionary liberalism and reactive conservatism. Such liberalism circles the wagons to defend existing government programs from challenges (e.g., public education against school-choice voucher programs) or even modest revision (e.g., partial privatization of Social Security). Such conservatism contents itself with moderating enrichments of the entitlement menu (e.g., prescription drugs under Medicare), nibbling at the edges of government's failures (e.g., Bush's halfhearted school-choice proposal) and sticking with failures even as evidence against them accumulates (e...
  • The 158-Game Winning Streak

    In 1971 Cubs rookie pitcher Bill Bonham, after failing to retire any of the four Cardinals he faced in his first major league appearance, said, "I guess I was due for a bad outing." In 1982 the Cardinals' Kelly Paris, after scoring the winning run in his first major league game, said, "I'd have to say, looking back, this is the high point of my career." Keeping one's perspective is important in baseball.Two years ago Commissioner Bud Selig appointed a Blue Ribbon Panel to put baseball's economic condition in perspective. The panel studied the increasing revenue disparities among the teams and the impact of them on competitive balance. Recently the four independent members (Richard Levin, president of Yale; Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board; former senator George Mitchell, and this columnist) issued their report. All four had begun with varying degrees of skepticism about the severity of baseball's problems. They ended, their skepticism dispelled,...
  • Politics In A Macaroni Era

    In January 1946 Charles de Gaulle, fresh from his heroic role as France's liberator, and disdaining the banal normality of peacetime administration, abruptly resigned as president of the provisional government. Having fought for the grandeur de la France, he told a colleague, with characteristic hauteur, that he did not wish to "worry about the macaroni ration."The death of most political fighting faiths, and the eclipse of public life by the private sector's productive prodigies, make this a macaroni era in politics. That may be why people fixated on public life (politicians, journalists) ascribe disproportionate importance to minor matters, such as Al Gore's choice of a Jewish running mate.Gore's choice was nowhere near as bold as Woodrow Wilson's 1916 nomination of Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court. The nomination of Joseph Lieberman does not break a barrier. Rather, it underscores the fact that a barrier has been reduced to rubble by what Lincoln called "the silent artillery...
  • Being 'Most Mentioned'

    Clearly George W. Bush finds Pennsylvania's Gov. Tom Ridge congenial company. "Two minds with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one," is perhaps how Bush puts it when waxing poetic. Ridge, 54, a solidly assembled 6 feet 2 inches, radiates executive energy. Like Bush, he is confident, upbeat, relaxed, humorous, conservative (six tax cuts in six years) and a practitioner of what he calls "limited but activist government." Unlike Bush, Ridge is a fluent extemporaneous speaker: his sentences parse and form paragraphs. He has a knack for pithy dispraise of Al Gore. Ridge calls Gore "Dr. Dark" who, had he been at Philadelphia in July 1776, would have denounced the Declaration of Independence as a "risky scheme." ...