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5/05/2004 03:26:00 PM | Timothy

George Will on George Bush
A lot of bloggers have been quoting George Will's recent column:
This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how "all people yearn to live in freedom" (McClellan). And about how it is "cultural condescension" to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a "myth" that "our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture" because "ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit" (Tony Blair)....
Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue. Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice.
I agree: this clearly is not thinking. Here is what Will is specifically referring to:
[Bush said:] "There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern."

What does such careless talk say about the mind of this administration? Note that the clearly implied antecedent of the pronoun "ours" is "Americans." So the president seemed to be saying that white is, and brown is not, the color of Americans' skin. He does not mean that....
But that is the sort of swamp one wanders into when trying to deflect doubts about policy by caricaturing and discrediting the doubters. Perhaps that, which is problematic enough, is what the president meant. But what he suggested was: Some persons -- perhaps many persons; no names being named, the smear remained tantalizingly vague -- doubt his nation-building project because they are racists.
Wow, George Will is making some sense. However, Josh Marshall makes many of the same points here. Marshall is not nearly as eloquent, but he also does not say this:
In "On Liberty" (1859), John Stuart Mill said, "It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say" that the doctrine of limited, democratic government "is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties." One hundred forty-five years later it obviously is necessary to say that.
Huh? I agree that Bush is wrong in his insinuation above. But if Will wants to say that opposition to Iraq is not racist, this is a really bad quote to use and endorse. Here is the full passage from Mill:
It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury. For the same reason, we may leave out of consideration those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage. The early difficulties in the way of spontaneous progress are so great, that there is seldom any choice of means for overcoming them; and a ruler full of the spirit of improvement is warranted in the use of any expedients that will attain an end, perhaps otherwise unattainable. Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate as to find one. But as soon as mankind have attained the capacity of being guided to their own improvement by conviction or persuasion (a period long since reached in all nations with whom we need here concern ourselves), compulsion, either in the direct form or in that of pains and penalties for non-compliance, is no longer admissible as a means to their own good, and justifiable only for the security of others.
Bush said: "There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern." Is that not what Mill says above? It seems Will was not thinking, which as he would admit, is really a shame. (Let's also not forget Will's attitude towards White minority rule in Apartheid South Africa though.) Of course most people who oppose Bush's democracy building project in Iraq are not racists. As Will says, Just because democratic institutions can help foster the culture necessary for liberty, does not mean they will. But Will does himself no serve by quoting someone who actually does make a race based statement.




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