The Gospel vs. George F. Will

David Farenthold, “Austerity is a hard nut to crack”
George F. Will, “2013’s lesson for conservatives”

Farenthold asks what’s best for the country.  Will asks what’s best for conservatives.  That difference illustrates what Trojan Horse Productions and The William Tell Show are all about.

In short, Will says the Democratic White House and Senate shot themselves in the foot in 2013, and that that’s good news for conservatives.

For how long?

Many conservatives seem to dream of a messianic age when liberal impulses will be finally discredited and red state values will be left to reign forever.  Know for certain that many liberals have mirror-image aspirations.  Neither one will ever come to pass.

Will says, “Franklin Roosevelt, emboldened by winning a second term in 1936, attempted to pack … the Supreme Court[.] …  The voters’ backlash against him was so powerful that there was no liberal legislating majority in Congress until after the 1964 election.”  Yet President Roosevelt won two more terms.

Will says, “That year’s landslide win … left Democrats with 295 House and 68 Senate seats. … [T]hey vowed to build a Great Society by expanding legislation and regulation into every crevice of Americans’ lives.”

The public isn’t swayed by abstractions, but by bread-and-butter concerns.  The pendulum swings to the left in times of wealth, and to the right in times of need.  The Kennedy presidency coincided with three years of unprecedented prosperity for the vast majority of Americans.  Real income was growing faster than anyone could fathom, with no end in sight.  Voters were inclined to be generous, and the 1964 Democratic landslide resulted.

The Great Society failed not because it over-reached, but because it was founded on misconceptions, some of which persist today:  that a spiritual problem can have a political solution (Cal Thomas was right.); that “black” means “poor,” and vice versa; that prosperity can be imposed on people who don’t want it.  As Michael McDonald summed it up in 1976,

You’re telling me the things you’re gonna do for me.
I’m not blind and I don’t like what I think I see.

Conservative ideology isn’t the problem.  The problem is any ideology at all.

Ideology begins with the dis-acceptance of what is.  This is an affective (emotional), not cognitive (ideatic) act.  Instead of accepting and dealing with things as they are, ideologues seek explanations for why things aren’t as “we” want — someone, some “they,” to blame for one’s disappointments and frustrations — and means to escape the uncertainties inherent in the arbitrary decisions life requires of us all.

Ideology says, “We cannot be happy unless they change their ways” — in ways “they” typically see no need to change.

It tells us one’s autonomy as a child of God is constrained by circumstances and others’ actions.

The Gospel tells me I can be content in any circumstance.

In March 2011, preparing to become homeless, I assembled a small package of “treasures,” possessions I wanted to keep forever.  For better or worse, I’ve had to carry them with me everywhere I go ever since.  They include a small, slim volume by Gerard Fourez, S.J., The Good News that Makes People Free.  This is the best expression I know of, of liberation theology.

Ideology as Fourez describes it is tantamount to what Lutheran theology calls “disembodied speech.”

Normal human speech occurs in the context of relationships.  I speak; you respond.  I respond to you.  We are accountable to each other.  We have a relationship.  Our speech is “embodied” in our relationship.

Ideology, like “disembodied speech,” occurs outside relationships.  It presumes authority unto itself and is accountable to no one.  Given the desire to escape the inevitable uncertainties of life, ideology propounds dogmas about which proponents can claim to be absolutely certain.

Ideological zeal varies as one’s alienation from what is.

The pearl of great price is peace of mind.

Some years ago, I coined the term “rhetorical evangelism” to name what I had in mind to do, as a radio talk show host who would call himself William Tell:  I would coach my audience to recognize and eschew the rhetorical devices that ideologues — of every kind — use to deflect our attention from, to interfere with our ability to grasp and deal with, what is.

Stuart Chase, in Guides to Straight Thinking, calls them fallacies.

I wrote Free Speech Handbook to explain twelve corresponding guidelines for public discourse that I would emphasize on the show.

In this one column, Will errs according to no fewer than six of the twelve guidelines.

Guideline 1: Judge the thought, not the thinker.  This refers to personal attacks, also known as ad hominem.  That, and also Guideline 4: Avoid name-calling, both apply to Will’s one expression, “Pajama Boy … is who progressives are.”

Guideline 2: Avoid categorizing.  An us/them mentality pervades the piece.  See also, however, the next paragraph here below.

Guideline 5: Avoid pejoratives.  Terms Will uses pejoratively in this piece include these:  fiats, statism, tone-deaf, hash, the political class, extort.  Note also that Will uses the term “progressive” as if it named an obscenity.

Guideline 6: Avoid sarcasm.  Will says, “The prophet Al Gore has given many hostages to fortune,” whereas I seriously doubt Will sees Al Gore as a prophet.

Polemics don’t advance the common good.

Wherewithal to embrace what is, is the good news that makes people free.

(Originally posted 01/18/14.)

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