George Will’s Double Standard

In January 1988, when Jesse Jackson appeared on ABC’s This Week, George Will asked him a series of questions designed to expose Jackson’s deception and ignorance. In particular, Will asked Jackson, “As president, would you support measures such as the G-7 measures in the Louvre accords?” As Will acidly recounted in a subsequent column, Jackson’s “answer to [that] question was, ‘Explain that.’”

The Louvre accords, it turned out–to the enlightenment of Jackson and just about everyone else–were an agreement reached in Paris a year earlier to stabilize currency exchange rates. When asked later whether his question was designed to embarrass Jackson rather than elicit information, Will argued, “That’s information, too.”

When Jackson implied that Will’s attempt to embarrass him was racist, Will took offense. To the contrary, Will argued, “Because [Jackson] is black, his white rivals sit silently beside him, leaving his foolishness unremarked. The real racism in this campaign is the unspoken assumption that it is unreasonable to expect a black candidate to get rudimentary things right … He should be thankful for double standards.”

Now along comes George W. Bush, with his fumbling references to “Kosovians” and his confusion of Slovakia with Slovenia. And what does Will think of this? In his Sept. 23 Washington Post column–headlined “He’s No Intellectual–And So What?”–Will writes, “The headmaster of Bush’s private secondary school in Houston aspired to give students ‘a sense of style,’ … At Bush’s Andover graduation, the headmaster urged graduates to ‘take with you a sense of style,’ a ‘distinction in manner and bearing.’ FDR, a virtuoso of charm and guile, was more a manner than a mind, but in politics, manner–style–can be a kind of program. Bush seems to know this.” As for the intellectualism of presidents early in this century, Will concludes, “such intellect in politics is rare, and perhaps should be.” What “Bush understands,” Will suggests, is that “the wise leader should strive to have intellectuals on tap and not be one himself.”

Why is Bush, unlike Jackson, hailed as a “wise leader” when he fails “to get rudimentary things right”? Is it racism? Chatterbox doesn’t think so. There’s a simpler explanation that applies to politicians in both parties, from Ronald Reagan to Bill Bradley. Whether you call a politician a fool or a wise leader depends on whether you’re the kind of intellectual he plans to keep on tap.