June 19, 2006

Tom & George

He calls it justice, which it certainly is, though it could be considered a show of mercy on some of his readers. Others might think it an exercise in prudence, for irritation makes intellectuals irrational, or so Ramesh Ponnuru posits in an artice in National Review concerning George Will's sudden distaste for social conservatives, with Ponnuru pointing out a string of illogicisms in Will's columns:
Will got in another Schiavo shot, describing social conservatives (no sneer quotes this time) as “unchastened by public disgust about their attempt 10 months ago to drag the federal government into the Terri Schiavo tragedy.” But social conservatives didn’t drag the federal government into this tragedy; it was there from the start. The Supreme Court had ruled, in 1990, that all states had to make it possible for a surrogate to direct that a feeding tube be removed from an incapacitated patient. Florida, Schiavo’s home state, never had a choice about whether to comply. Social conservatives were merely trying to contain the damage from that federal intervention.

Social conservatives often deserve criticism, even sharp criticism, and some of Will’s hits the mark. What fair-minded observer would deny that they can be intolerant, or self-righteous? Will is right to say that too often they play the victim card. They do, sometimes, overreach. Will is probably right to consider both intelligent design and the marriage amendment instances of such overreaching. (I would also point to the insistence, by many social conservatives, that America is in some constitutional sense a “Christian nation.”) Social conservatives, whatever they should be called, can learn from his rebukes. By any sensible reckoning, Will is, even today, a moderate social conservative himself. But lately, when social conservatives are the topic, Will’s reasoning loses its customary intricacy.

How to explain it? I will venture a guess. George Will is the most coolly analytical of commentators. (He is cool even — especially — when he is scorching.) Look closely, however, and it is just possible to see that his thought is being distorted by an emotion. It is a powerful yet underrated emotion: irritation.

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