The Hypocrisy of George Will
Pundit's double standards, ethical lapses seldom noted
by Steve Rendall
EXTRA - September / October 2003, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
When Republican senators filibustered President Clinton's economic stimulus bill in 1993, columnist George Will vigorously defended the Senate rule that requires the votes of at least 60 senators, a so-called supermajority, to impose an end to debate. In a column headlined "The Framers' Intent" (Washington Post, 4/25/93), Will praised "the right of a minority to use extended debate to obstruct Senate action" and he cheered "the generation that wrote and ratified the Constitution" for properly establishing "the Senate's permissive tradition regarding extended debates."
Dismissing a liberal critic of the rule, Will wrote: "The Senate is not obligated to jettison one of its defining characteristics, permissiveness regarding extended debate, in order to pander to the perception that the presidency is the sun around which all else in American government-even American life-orbits."
Ten years and an apparent Copenican revolution later, Will reversed himself. In the column "Coup Against the Constitution" (Washington Post, 2/28/03), Will found the Senate rule he'd once draped in the mantle of original intent was in fact an affront to the framers.
Concerned that "41 Senate Democrats" might succeed in stopping the confirmation of Miguel Estrada, nominated by George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Will wrote: "If Senate rules, exploited by an anti-constitutional minority, are allowed to trump the Constitution's text and two centuries of practice, the Senate's power to consent to judicial nominations will have become a Senate right to require a supermajority vote for confirmation."
By what intellectual pathway had Will's seemingly immutable constitutional position changed? He never explained or even acknowledged holding the earlier, contradictory view. But something obvious had changed: In February 2003, it was a Democratic minority in the Senate trying to block the action of a Republican president, whereas in 1993 the parties' roles were reversed.
Edward Lazarus, a columnist for the legal website Findlaw.com and the first to point out the hypocrisy in Will's filibuster bluster (3/6/03), made an important observation when he noted the gap between Will's supposed status as "an honest broker of ideas" and this "exquisitely brazen example of intellectual flip-floppery that has nothing to do with the law or the Constitution, or American history, and everything to do with conservative politics."