Stories by George F. Will

  • 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. ...
  • Marx In A J. Press Suit

    HUSBANDING HIS STOCK OF POLITICAL CAPITAL AND his reservoirs of political courage for expenditure during his third term, President Clinton has declined to do the sensible thing. It would be sensible to give China permanent ""most favored nation'' status and begin looking for more suitable levers for prying China's rulers away from political despotism and economic irrationality. Instead, we remain condemned to debates like the one now coming to a boil, in which the passions are as heated as the outcome is certain. ...
  • Big Scare In The Big Apple

    NEW YORK CITY, HOME OF THE AVANT-GARDE AND the last to learn life's lessons, is unhappily pondering the possibility that the Second World War might be over. The city is staring into an abyss: rent control, enacted as a wartime measure, might be end ed. This is of more than parochial interest to that most parochial of American places. The history and current controversy about rents there is a case study of how democratic governments make mistakes and resist unmaking them. ...
  • Consensus And Ladders

    A JOKE PERENNIALLY PERTINENT IN WASHINGTON: AN economist and a normal person fall into a deep pit with sides too steep to climb. The normal person exclaims, "We're trapped!" The economist replies, "Don't worry, we'll simply assume a ladder." A budget deal is coming. Ladders are proliferating. ...
  • Presidential Moisture

    WHAT? CAN IT BE TRUE? OUR PRESIDENT HAS not yet wept publicly this week? Well, the week has a way to go. His propensity for tearing up is not merely an eccentricity. His presidency is defined by its moistness, which defines a distinctively modern sensibility. ...
  • Alomar In Context

    ROBERTO ALOMAR BECAME A SWITCH HITTER AT THE age of 7 because his father, a major leaguer (he roomed with Henry Aaron), said that would help Roberto to be "an everyday player." Today Alomar, baseball's best second baseman, is giving new meaning to the phrase "everyday player." The Orioles' 1996 season was ended in mid-October by the Yankees (with an assist from an umpire's blown call on a catch by a kid in the fight-field seats). By the first week of November Alomar, who earns $6 million a season from the Orioles, was playing winter ball back home in Puerto Rico for pocket change. He is baseball straight through. "Whenever I am done with this game, I am going to say, 'I played all those years and did not miss a chance to play'." ...
  • Louisiana Larceny?

    MARK SEIFERT MOVES ASIDE HIS BREAKFAST plate, puts a small tape player on the table in the dining room of Washington's Four Seasons Hotel and presses a button. The recorded voices seem to describe the stealing of a U.S. Senate seat by means so raw they startle, even in the context of all the other Democratic sordidness of 1996: ...
  • Political Unitarianism

    WALK, WITH EYES AVERTED, PAST THE ERUPTION of metal that passes for art and dominates the huge atrium of the Hart Office Building. Enter the first-floor office with the portrait of Hubert Humphrey, the office of Minnesota's Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone. There you will find the flame of liberalism. It is not a hard and gemlike flame. ...
  • Heirlooms, Not Hedonism

    WHAT? YOU SAY YOU HAVE NOT YET BOUGHT A Patek Philippe wristwatch? Yes, of course, no law says you have to do the right thing for your descendants. But, really, buying such a watch, even though it is a bit pricey, is not crass. Quite the contrary, it is simply the thoughtful, genteel thing to do. ...
  • Save Us From The Purists

    SINCE THE APPLE INCIDENT IN EDEN, THE HUMAN RACE has been disappointing. Hence term limits for Congress may become one of the few exceptions to the rule that when Americans want something, and want it intensely and protractedly, they get it. Only the political class can enact limits, and limits would be unnecessary if that class were susceptible to self-restraint. ...
  • Orwell, Call Your Office

    OH, SO THAT IS WHAT THE FUROR WAS ALL ABOUT. Last autumn Democrats spent nobody knows quite how many scores of millions of dollars, raised from no one knows precisely how many Indonesian connections and Buddhist temple ""community outreach events,'' to run ads warning elderly Americans about Republican extremism. The extremism supposedly took the form of plans to ""slash'' Medicare. The Republican proposal of January 1996 was for trimming projected spending by $158 billion over six years, which comes to $26.3 billion per year. Last week President Clinton proposed shrinking Medicare spending by $138 billion over six years, which comes to $23 billion a year. So $3.3 billion a year in a Medicare budget of $1.4 trillion through 2002 is the difference between statesmanship and savagery. ...
  • Tale Of Two Countries

    BEFORE THE BIG DECEMBER DANCE AT ST. LUKE HIGH school in Jersey City, N.J., Sister Peter, a woman of abundant faith but few illusions, advised newcomers to the staff, "Their dancing might get a little explicit, but there is nothing we can do about it--until it resembles foreplay. Then stop it." The 10th graders in Mark Gerson's five American history classes knew what would happen if they did things he wanted to stop. They would "get a Frank." They would be given after-school detention, during which they would have to listen to recordings by Gerson's hero from nearby Hoboken, Frank Sinatra.Gerson, then 22 and fresh from Williams College, had grown up 20 miles from Jersey City, in, effectively, another country--affluent Short Hills. He had wanted to spend the 1994-95 academic year teaching in an inner-city public school before going on to Yale Law School. However, he could not get so much as an interview from the sclerotic public system. (Jersey City has the nation's highest...
  • 1996 In Our Wee Galaxy

    EVER SINCE COPERNICUS CAME TO HIS CONCLUSIONS about the heavens, the idea has been seepinginto the consciousness of our species that we are not, after all, the center of the universe. Thus few took notice of, and no one was scandalized by, the biggest news of 1996, reported in San Antonio at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society. A headline in The New York Times, Jan. 16: SUDDENLY, UNIVERSE GAINS 40 BILLION MORE GALAXIES. Fifty billion instead of 10 billion. In the Milky Way, our run-of-the-mill galaxy, the sun is just one of 50 billion to 100 billion stars. ...
  • Perfume And Vinegar

    There' was a danger that Abram might become too well pleased with his own good fortune. Therefore God seasons the sweetness of wealth with vinegar. ...
  • A Boneless Wonder?

    IN 1931, WHEN CHURCHILL WAS IN THE OPPOSITION, HE SAID this to the House of Commons concerning Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald: ""I remember when I was a child, being taken to the celebrated Barnum's Circus which contained an exhibition of freaks and monstrosities, but the exhibit on the programme which I most desired to see was the one described as "The Boneless Wonder.' My parents judged that that spectacle would be too revolting and demoralizing for my youthful eyes, and I have waited fifty years to see the boneless wonder sitting on the Treasury Bench.'' ...