George F.

Stories by George F. Will

  • A 100 Percent Tax On Speech?

    At a stroke, Bill Bradley recently refuted the bromide that he is boring, and in doing so he usefully illuminated the upcoming Senate debate on campaign finance reform. He did all this with a remarkable proposal--a proposal flagrantly unconstitutional and amazingly inimical to democratic values, but definitely not boring.On a call-in program on New Hampshire public radio, Bradley was at first boring: he advocated public financing, saying we spend $900 million a year promoting democracy abroad and for about the same sum we could supplant all private money with public money in campaigns. This would "totally take special interests out of our election process." His unremarkable, because familiar, thought raises questions:By what criteria would he sort the "special," and impliedly disreputable, interests from the nonspecial, reputable ones that deserve to be in our election process? When the sorting is done, what will that process be about? Is Bradley a modern Mugwump, trying to scrub...
  • Some Queries For Bradley

    With almost insolent ease, Bill Bradley has gained much ground on Al Gore without burdening voters with much information about what he would do with power. Herewith a few questions: You stress racial "reconciliation." What was a reconciler like you doing Aug. 23 spending two hours in Harlem with Al Sharpton, the demagogic race hustler who participated in Tawana Brawley's completely fraudulent claim to have been raped and smeared with excrement by white police officers?The Education Department's Office of Civil Rights seems poised to rule that heavy reliance on SAT scores in college admissions constitutes illegal discrimination because minorities score lower on average than whites. Do you agree?Forced busing for school desegregation, which you have supported, is ending in the place where it began 29 years ago, Charlotte, N.C. After billions of dollars spent on busing, and billions of student hours spent on buses, what has busing accomplished?Cleveland's school-choice program may wind...
  • Life And Death At Princeton

    Princeton, N.J.--The university's motto, "Dei Sub Numine Viget," does not say, as some Princetonians insist, "God went to Princeton." It says, "Under God's Power She Flourishes." As the academic year commences, Peter Singer comes to campus to teach that truly ethical behavior will not flourish until humanity abandons the fallacy, as he sees it, of "the sanctity of life."He comes trailing clouds of controversy because he argues, without recourse to euphemism or other semantic sleights-of-hand, the moral justification of some homicides, including infanticide and euthanasia. He rejects "the particular moral order" which supposes that human beings are extraordinarily precious because God made them so. He also rejects secular philosophies that depict human beings as possessing a unique and exalted dignity that sharply distinguishes them from, and justifies their "tyranny" over, other species of animals.The appointment of the 53-year-old Australian philosopher to a tenured professorship...
  • Iowa Clears Its Throat

    Brooding, sphinxlike Iowa is about to speak. Well, maybe as much as seven tenths of 1 percent of Iowa's voting-age population will speak in Ames this Saturday. There may be as many as 15,000 card-carrying Iowans (this year, for the first time, they had better have proof that they are Iowans) who will pay $25 for the privilege of participating in a straw poll. The identification requirement aims to stop candidates from busing and even flying in supporters from far away. In other years, the joke went, some Iowans met their first Puerto Ricans at the Ames straw poll. This year's poll will be the first real--well, semi-real--event of the Republican presidential nomination contest. Or, more precisely, the poll will be a straw in the wind, indicating whether there really will be a contest.Because it is a safe surmise that George W. Bush will win, there is a sense in which he can't win. He has not spent much time--much less than most of his rivals--in Iowa, so he is not apt to win as...
  • The Mask Of Masculinity

    Prof. Harvey Mansfield is Harvard's conservative. Well, all right, he is one of Harvard's handful of conservatives, a.k.a. The Saving Remnant. A few years ago he received a call when a distinguished colleague retired. The caller, a young woman journalist, wanted a comment on the retirement. Mansfield obliged, saying he particularly admired the colleague's "manliness." An awkward silence ensued from the other end of the line. Then the reporter asked Mansfield, "Could you think of another word?"What might be wrong with that word? That is a (literally) academic question, now that professors and somber quarterlies are creating a new discipline: masculinity studies. That subject is being, as it were, married to "women's studies" to round out "gender studies," as at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where there now is a Center for the Study of Women and Men.Well. In olden days, before these things were understood with today's clarity, people thought that when they studied subjects such...
  • Vertiginous In New York

    Hillary Clinton is a leading cultural indicator, and New York politics, with enough variables to induce vertigo, illustrates the definition of politics as the organization of animosities. So consider the complexities surrounding her evident determination to occupy--do not say fill--the seat of retiring Sen. Pat Moynihan.Why would she run? Never mind the psychotherapeutic hypothesis that after Monica and decades of Monica's antecedents, she needs a self-esteem infusion. She is running because running is what the Clintons do. Campaigning may be a metabolic necessity for them; it certainly is their lifetime vocation.He has been campaigning since law school. Tagging along, she has led an entirely derivative life, from rainmaker for an unsavory Little Rock law firm to unmaker of health-care reform. But now she inherits the family business, which consists of living off the land, nomadically soliciting money to fuel campaigns. Well-known not for any achievements but only for her well...
  • Republicans, Just Waiting

    Republicans in the House of Representatives are putting a cheerful interpretation on events, in the manner of the communique issued during the Spanish Civil War: "The advance was continued all day without any ground being lost." Their leader, Speaker Dennis Hastert, says, appearances of disarray notwithstanding, all 13 appropriations bills will be passed by the Aug. 7 recess. ...
  • Six-Year-Old Harassers?

    Granted, G.F., as the Supreme Court calls him, was even more vulgar than many fifth-grade boys occasionally are. His sexual misbehavior, which continued for five months and eventually required him to plead guilty to sexual battery against his classmate LaShonda, was directed at others as well. It included, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote last week, verbal affronts ("I want to feel your boobs"), groping and other crudities ("G.F. purportedly placed a doorstop in his pants and proceeded to act in a sexually suggestive manner"). ...
  • Meg's Potent Measuredness

    Meg Greenfield said that one thing she especially liked about her friend Daniel Bell, the distinguished sociologist, was that he was so smart he made her feel like a dumb blonde. Well, Bell is very intelligent, but not that intelligent. Nobody is, ever was or could be.Meg, who died at 68 last Thursday of cancer, was not a blonde. She was very intelligent and, what is different and more important, she was wise. In a Washington chock full of clever ninnies from tony schools, Meg was the real article--a public intellectual. Time was, New York was the magnet that drew such people. Meg's 1961 move from Manhattan to Washington markedly increased the thoughtfulness of the nation's capital.Indeed, discerning cultural historians will one day recognize that Meg's move was a significant episode in the making of modern Washington, and in the diminution of New York City as the center of the nation's political gravity. It was not so long ago, as eras in the lives of nations are reckoned, that...
  • The Perils Of Brushing

    All of us have seen lots of them, those words of warning or instruction that appear on products we buy. "Do not eat this sled." "For best results do not apply this floor wax to your teeth." "This antifreeze is not intended for pouring on breakfast cereal." We hardly notice them, let alone consider what they say about the times in which we live. The sled, wax and antifreeze warnings are apocryphal. But you could not know that. After all, The American Enterprise magazine offers these from real life:On a bag of Fritos: "You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside." On a bread pudding: "Product will be hot after heating." On a bar of Dial soap: "Use like regular soap." On a hotel shower cap: "Fits one head." On a package of Nytol sleeping aid: "May cause drowsiness." On a string of Christmas lights: "For indoor or outdoor use only." On the packaging of a Rowenta iron: "Do not iron clothes on body."The warning about a product's being hot after heating may be a response...
  • Ricky The Remarkable

    Mark McGwire's biceps symbolize big bang baseball. Rickey Henderson's thighs, which are responsible for what still may be the quickest first step in baseball, are the key to this: baseball's history is written largely in numbers, and numbers say Henderson's may have been the most impressive all-round career in the last quarter century.His gaudiest number--1,299 stolen bases, and counting--is a record you will never see broken. Here is another: 130 steals in a season (1982). He already has 38.5 percent (361) more than the second greatest thief, Lou Brock. With Oakland last year, Henderson led the American League with 66 stolen bases--four more than the Mets' team total. Joe DiMaggio, a fine base runner, stole only 30 bases in a 13-year career. DiMaggio's season high was six. Henderson has stolen five in a game.For half a century after Babe Ruth made baseball homer-happy, and especially in the 1950s, baseball became simple-minded. Most teams, most of the time, just tried to get...
  • Stepping Into A Dark Room

    Instead of reflexively invoking the specter of Adolf Hitler whenever they are confronted with a troublesome tyrant, American leaders should take seriously one thing Hitler said. Formed by the First World War, destroyed by the Second, Hitler thought of little other than war in between, and he knew whereof he spoke when he said that going to war was like stepping through a door into a dark room.NATO is stumbling around in such a room, barking its shins. Emblematic of the confusion is the "NATO official" who tells The New York Times why Slobodan Milosevic's presidential palace cannot be bombed. It used to be the King of Yugoslavia's residence and is a prized cultural treasure--why, it even contains a Rembrandt: "How can we win the hearts and minds of the people of Yugoslavia if we destroyed the palace?"One's heart sinks. Is that how NATO thinks? Surely bombers are not dispatched to do only things that will leave undisturbed the mood of the masses in the target nation. NATO's problem is...
  • Lies, Damned Lies And...

    With the Dow average nearing a fifth digit, Americans are cheerful. However, soon the women's division of the Great American Grievance Industry will weigh in, saying women remain trapped beneath the "glass ceiling" and in the "pink ghetto." Brace yourself for a blizzard of statistics purporting to prove that women are suffering a "wage gap" primarily caused by discrimination that requires government actions like affirmative action, quotas and set-asides.But a counterblizzard has blown in from Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Christine Stolba, authors of "Women's Figures: An Illustrated Guide to the Economic Progress of Women in America." Furchtgott-Roth is a fellow at The American Enterprise Institute and Stolba is a historian living in Washington, and both had better mind their manners. Feminists are not famous for their sense of humor and may frown at the authors' dedication of their book to their husbands "who have always appreciated our figures."The National Committee On Pay Equity and...
  • The First Michael Jordan

    Joe DiMaggio was the first Michael Jordan, the first athlete who transcended his sport, and sport generally, to become his generation's archetype of a gentleman. But 30 years before DiMaggio there was Christy Mathewson, who did more than anyone to prepare the nation to make DiMaggio a grace note of the 20th century. Mathewson did this by placing baseball firmly in a new and unrivaled position in the nation's imagination.Mathewson is buried next to the campus of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. Although he did not get a degree there, he attended that school before becoming a big leaguer, at a time when college men were thin on the ground in the professional game. Not until 1988 did California surpass Pennsylvania as the state that has supplied the most major leaguers. For a long time players were hard men fleeing hard lives in coal mines and steel mills and on hardscrabble farms.Mathewson was born in 1880 in a tiny town with the no-nonsense name of Factoryville, Pa. There,...
  • Let's Play 20 Questions

    Given the compression of the presidential-primary calendar, both parties' nominees may be known a year from now, on the evening of March 7, the day voting occurs in California, New York and a slew of other states. The Democratic contest should be decorous, because neither Al Gore nor Bill Bradley will ever be confused with William Jennings Bryan, the Silver-Tongued Orator of the Platte. They are not firebrands who are apt to scorch one another over their differences, if they have any differences. But the Republican candidates, who are sprouting like March crocuses, should be entertaining, particularly if pressed to answer questions such as these 20:The average household has an income of $38,000 and would get only $99 from a 10 percent across-the-board tax cut. The public is less than incandescent about such a cut. Surprised?In 1999 the 23.6 percent of taxpayers earning between $30,000 and $50,000 will pay just 13.6 percent of income taxes. The 5 percent of Americans earning $100,000...
  • When Acting As Rome . . .

    WHEN ACTING AS ROME, DO AS THE ROMANS DID. If the United States, pursuing a Pax Americana, puts military forces on the ground in Kosovo, it should make clear that it does not have a ""timetable'' for an ""exit strategy.'' They are products of longings rather than logic and they telegraph tentativeness born of reluctance. They communicate lack of resolve and tell the people who are the problem to wait you out. ...
  • Al Gore Has A New Worry

    IT IS BACK TO THE 1950S FOR LIBERALISM. ITS NEXT PALADIN, Al Gore, is alarmed about suburban ""sprawl.'' That issue is the political equivalent of a 45 rpm record of The Platters' ""The Great Pretender,'' or a stroll down memory lane in white-and-black saddle shoes with red rubber soles. It is so old it may seem new, and is fresh evidence of Gore's propensity for muddy, hackneyed and semihysterical thinking. ...
  • Modesty Is Sexy. Really.

    THE MYSTERY RECENTLY MADE IT ONTO THE NEW YORK Times's front page: Why is there burgeoning interest among young people in ballroom dancing and swing music? Wendy Shalit, a prodigy at cracking the codes of culture, says the interest betokens a hunger for formality, elegance, grace, restraint and rules. She hopes it, like the enthusiasm of young women for movies of manners, such as ""Emma'' and ""The Age of Innocence,'' is a harbinger of a revolution--counterrevolution, really--in sensibility. ...
  • The Primacy Of Culture

    PROGRESS HAS BECOME PUZZLING. WHEN HISTORY WAS thought to be cyclical, progress seemed impossible. However, a few centuries ago there was an outbreak of cheerfulness: progress seemed not only possible but inevitable. At least it would be if governments applied social learning, which is cumulative, through wise policies.But recently the prerequisites of progress have become less clear. Consider the United States, which is flourishing, and Russia, which is (literally) sickening. The trajectories of both nations underscore the importance of culture--customs, mores, traditions, values, institutionalized ideas--rather than just legal institutions and economic policies as agents of progress.Russia is remarkably resistant to progress, material and moral. Its imploding economy is now smaller than Denmark's, and public health is calamitous. Demographer Murray Feshbach reports in The Atlantic Monthly that radioactive and chemical contamination is rife. Russia's government reports that 76.5...
  • Vapors And Serenity

    IT WAS LARGELY A YEAR OF CONTENTMENT--BY THE standards of this blood-soaked and ideologically intoxicated century, a year of serenity. Yet it also was a year of living lachrymosely. Not since the 1920s has there been a year in which politics mattered less. And the memory of man runneth not to a year when there was an episode of disproportion comparable to the planet-wide vapors occasioned by one of the year's uncountably numerous automobile accidents, this one in Paris. At year's end, surely there were many millions of people who had participated in the great global crying three months earlier and who were wondering, perhaps a bit sheepishly, ""What was that all about?'' ...
  • A Gi Bill For Mothers

    ALTHOUGH HIS CULTURED DESPISERS ARE LOATH TO admit it, and he was probably ambivalent about it, Richard Nixon skimmed more cream off the American professoriate than most presidents have done, pack- ing his administration with, among others, Henry Kissinger and Pat Moynihan (Harvard), James Schlesinger (University of Virginia), George Shultz (University of Chicago) and Arthur Burns (Columbia). Yet Moynihan, Nixon's urban affairs adviser, insistently, and for a long time unsuccessfully, urged Nixon to consult with another professor, then at Harvard. Finally Moynihan prevailed by exclaiming, "Mr. President, James Q. Wilson is the smartest man in the United States. The president of the United States should pay attention to what he has to say." ...
  • Saddam And Sobriety

    IMMEDIATELY AFTER IRAQ INVADED KUWAIT IN 1990, JIMMY Goldsmith, the Anglo-French billionaire, telephoned an American friend, a former statesman, and speculated that Saddam had made two miscalculations. Saddam did not count on Secretary of State James Baker's being in Mongolia when President George Bush was formulating his initial response to the invasion, and he did not count on Bush's being in Aspen, Colo., with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. ...
  • Clinton Feels His Own Pain

    IT HAD SEEMED THAT THE NEGLIGIBLE NATURE OF BILL Clinton's first term would protect him from the diminution of stature that presidents often suffer in second terms. Not much can be subtracted from not much. Then last week 80 percent of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, spurning both his arguments and his blandishments, seemed almost to relish treating him with disdain. By denying him ""fast track'' authority in trade negotiations, they struck at his policy of expanding free trade, the only area where he could plausibly hope to leave a legacy large enough to be noticed by historians even just 20 years hence.Historians will focus on the dominant fact of the Clinton presidency, which is that it coincided with a remarkable acceleration in something that already was impressive--America's creation of wealth. They will try to determine the degree to which his presidency was a cause of that. The questions will be: To what extent did policies of the federal government contribute...
  • Deregulating Politics

    WHEN EARL LONG WAS LOUISIANA'S GOVERNOR, he did not think highly of the state's attorney general: ""If you want to hide something from Jack Gremillion, put it in a lawbook.'' Nowadays if you want, as sensible people do, to discredit the drive for campaign-finance reform, give the reformers ample opportunities to put forth their arguments. The more they talk, the more wind escapes from their movement's sails.Although Bill Clinton is almost negligible as a president, he may have one large, and largely wholesome, consequence. Having run his last campaign, he now favors new regulations on giving and spending money to disseminate political advocacy. However, suppose, as seems probable and by and large desirable, the final conclusion about his 1996 campaign-financing activities is that although what he did was often coarse and unseemly, it was nevertheless permitted by existing laws. In that case, his behavior will have produced the de facto deregulation of campaigning. That is, there...
  • Echoes Of The Gi Bill

    IT IS SOMETIMES CALLED THE MOST IMPORTANT LAW EVER passed by Congress--quite a claim, considering the radiating consequences of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, the 1935 Social Security Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and others. However, when in 1944 Congress passed the GI Bill, it could not have anticipated how profoundly this would shape modern America. The bill's story, told Wednesday in a PBS program, is pertinent to current controversies about the utility of government and the re-moralization of social policy.The bill was partly intended as a prophylactic measure against prospective discontents: the rise of European fascism had been fueled by the grievances of demobilized servicemen from the First World War. It is not correct to say, as the program does, that hitherto American veterans had been neglected. In 1865 one fifth of Mississippi's state budget went for artificial limbs to replace limbs left in places like Shiloh and Cold Harbor. And in the 1890s more than 40 percent of...
  • The Popcorn Board Lives!

    AUTUMN, SEASON OF MISTS AND MELLOW FRUITFULness, is upon the nation's capital, the frost is on the pumpkin and the vice president, lynx-eyed on behalf of the public weal, is laying siege to the citadel of our complacency by lecturing a covey of television weather forecasters to be on the lookout for global warming. Such climate change is an imminent peril, according to some of the very alarmed people who 20 years ago were forecasting global cooling--glaciers in Indiana, and all that--but they probably have got it right this time, right? Or perhaps the vice president and his savants have (as was once said of a rock singer) persistence beyond the call of talent.The nation's public conversation just now has various entertaining aspects. The New York Times, which probably is quite sincerely bewildered by the widespread belief that it has a liberal tilt, recently ran this headline: CRIME KEEPS ON FALLING, BUT PRISONS KEEP ON FILLING. The ""but'' is a telltale sign of the mentality that...
  • Purists Vs. Impurists

    THE BALTIMORE ORIOLES PLAYED A NIGHT GAME AT home two Sundays ago, and on the following Monday and Tuesday they played day-night doubleheaders (separate admissions for each game)--five games in 50 hours. Attendance for the five games was 220,183, not far behind what the Boston Braves drew in their entire 1952 season (281,278), the year before they decamped for Milwaukee, en route to Atlanta. Attendance on both Monday (88,712) and Tuesday (84,207) was more than the St. Louis Browns (who had been in Milwaukee until 1901 and who were to move to Baltimore in 1954) drew in the entire 1935 season (80,922). Put a good team in a pretty ballpark, people will come. ...
  • A Week Of Sheer Fakery

    WITHIN HOURS OF THE DEATH OF PRINCESS Diana, two unfailing fountains of banalities and bromides had been heard from. President Clinton, whose gift for self-absorption has a kind of grandeur, interrupted his vacation to deliver a bulletin on his inner life, making a statement in which he talked about his feelings and his wife's feelings and, oh yes, the Princess. Several Sunday afternoon football announcers took advantage of a pause in the play to note that Diana had been ""a hero.'' These leading indicators of cultural froth clearly indicated the beginning of a bull market in bathos. ...
  • Torricelli's Larger Point

    SOMEONE--SOMEONE WITH A PRE-POSTMODERN TURN OF mind--once said that the trouble with facts is that there are so many of them. Today the problem seems to be that there are so few of them. This thought is brought on by several matters recently in the news, starting with a new wrinkle in an entertaining contretemps about memories from the remarkable infancy, or perhaps the later childhood, of Sen. Robert Torricelli, New Jersey's freshman Democrat. ...
  • A Two-Bit, And Fine, Idea

    TREASURY SECRETARY ROBERT RUBIN CLEARLY NEEDS a vacation. He frets that if, as seems likely, states are given the right to choose images for the backs of quarters, Congress must forbid ""frivolous or inappropriate designs.'' Why? Lest anything that scandalizes Washington's gravity and banality should appear where an eagle now adorns our most used coin? Quick, before Congress spoils the fun, here are 51 suggestions: ...
  • Parchment And Pacification

    ADVOCATES OF A BAN ON THE PRODUCTION, STOCK-piling and use of anti-personnel land mines call it practical compassion, an act of nobility that will be emulated. It is, they say, an idea that we can live with and that thousands of people a year - one person is said to be killed or maimed by a mine every 22 minutes - cannot live without. Critics say a ban would be ""noblesse oblige arms control,'' continuing the reduction of U.S. foreign policy to gestures both frivolous and dangerous, the triumph of symbolism and sentimentalism over realism. ...
  • European Fudging

    THE SYMBOL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION HAS AN ELEgant simplicity. It is 12 gold stars--one for each of the original member nations (members now number 15) in a circle on a deep blue background. But the symbol now should be a crumbling slab of fudge. The member nations are now fudging the criteria they established for participation in the European Monetary Union, the single currency which is the next stage of European unification. As a result, the project of political unification may be crumbling. The fudging was predictable, and the crumbling is desirable. ...