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Wednesday, March 19, 2003
George Will, who, because of his jobs at ABC and the Washington Post and his great writing on baseball, is overrated as a public intellectual, has made a typically over-the-top statement in criticizing Tom Daschle's position on the war. He writes that Daschle is wrong to blame W for screwing up the diplomatic situation and forcing a war (an opinion that Daschle is far from alone in expressing). Will thinks that is silly because the diplomatic problems were the fault of France and not the US. OK, fine, lots of people have said that. But check out Will's conclusion:

"As for Daschle, he has become the Democrats' Trent Lott, with two differences. Lott was embarrassing about 1948, not 2003. And his fellow Republicans were embarrassed."

In other words, Daschle is worse than Lott, because Lott's comments concerned an issue of long ago, while Daschle's concerned a current event, and Lott was criticized by members of his own party.

Sorry, George. Your attempt to compare Lott's comments that we would have been better off with Strom Thurmond's election in 1948 (and resulting legalized segregation) with Daschle's comments that the President has done a lousy job of bringing allies along to his foreign policy is a classic apples and oranges situation. Indeed, it goes beyond that-- it's apples and orangutans. Lott endorsed a policy that has been discredited for 35 years. (Further, Will's characterization of it as "about 1948" is disingenuous spin: Lott's statements offended people living now, including many blacks who suffered under the policies Thurmond advocated.) Daschle may or may not be right about W (I happen to think he is right), but his comments certainly do not endorse any sort of extremist ideology; indeed, people like Josh Marshall, Kenneth Pollack, and Tom Friedman and many others have been making the same argument.

The fact of the matter is, this episode tells you a lot about Will. Nobody who understood what was really at issue with the Lott comments would compare a rather mundane criticism of American foreign policy by an opposition party leader to Lott's statements, much less contend that the mundane foreign policy criticism was actually a worse offense than Lott's. Perhaps Will has seen his party flirt with so many segregationist politicians and policies over the years (e.g., Bob Jones University, Reagan in Philadelphia, Mississippi) that he doesn't really see what the fuss was about Lott. Or perhaps he is one of those who believes that any criticism of a President in wartime is treasonous, rather than the legitimate exercise of First Amendment freedoms. But he must be either underreacting to Lott's offense or overreacting to Daschle's alleged offense. There are ways you can tell a real public intellectual from an ordinary partisan. This is the sort of thing that exposes Will as the latter.

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