Alex Blaze

George Will: Lying, snooty homophobe

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 15, 2009 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, The Movement
Tags: George Will, homophobic behavior, Jerry Brown, LGBT, marriage, Prop. 8

Long-time readers of this blog know that I plain don't like George Will. There isn't much space between him and the farthest right on substance, but he's usually held up as a "true conservative," a "respectable conservative," or an "intellectual conservative," based on the fact that he goes to the right cocktail parties and doesn't talk about God too much when he's discussing politics. Other than that, he's a extremist liar like the rest of the right-wing, except he wears glasses and could effectively play a professor, should they ever make another American Pie.

He has a column in the Washington Post and appears every week on This Week, a Sunday morning gab fest, and he's usually so misinformed it's embarrassing to the idea of an American public discourse.

His column today is no different, where he takes on one of the briefs in the suit to overturn Prop 8. Noticeably missing from his column are the arguments presented in any of the plaintiffs; he describes only California Attorney General Jerry Brown's brief against the measure and doesn't really seem to have read anything more than the WorldNetDaily summary of the substance of it.

Of course, far be it for anyone to criticize George Will's knowledge of Californian constitutional, statutory, and common law... he wears spectacles and has read the Federalist Papers!

The crux of George Will's argument is that the will of the people shouldn't be overturned by the supreme court of the state. Since we live in a society of laws, then the people's law should stand. Of course, the process by which it was passed should never be examined, nor should constitutional law be discussed, because this is a society of laws, you know, which means that any interpretation of law that a court engages in is an "unassailable tyranny of a minority."

Make sense? Well, only if you buy into the "judicial activism is any court decision I don't like" mentality of the right.

This rhetorical tactic parallels (isn't the same, and I'm not commenting on the topics this topic was used for) the argument often made against ending against ending racial segregation - and still used by racists to revise the history of the Civil War - the state rights argument. For respectable racists, coming out and saying that they opposed racial integration, at a certain point, became unfashionable. So they devised an entire discourse around the idea of states' rights, saying that it wasn't integration they were against, just the idea of the federal government telling Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama what to do. The code language became so effective that all Ronald Reagan had to do was mention the phrase "states' rights" to get the support of racists behind his 1980 campaign.

I'm seeing the same dynamic at play now when it comes to "judicial activism." Slowly, the establishment is coming around to the idea that just saying that queer people are inferior is bad, so instead of being against same-sex marriage, respectable homophobes like George Will are just against the only means by which it's passed. Or, in California's case, reaffirmed.

It's a ruse, it means nothing, since if courts were generally deciding in favor of conservatives (which they do far too often when it comes to workplace and labor disputes), George Will wouldn't be complaining one bit.

But George Will is a special case, because he's just so wrong so often, and yet he tries to appear "educated" and "intellectual" and "literate." Consider:

But Brown's reasoning would make California's Constitution subordinate to judges' flights of fancy regarding natural justice. Judges could declare unconstitutional any act of Constitution-revising by the people.

In the universe those of us not named George Will live in, that's not true at all. California has two systems to change the constition: an amendment process, which is what was used in prop 8, and a revision process, which is meant to be for more profound changes to the constitution. In fact, there's another case before the California court asking to overturn Prop 8, which the NCLR is working on, that says that it should have gone through the revision process instead of the amendment process.

I know that not everyone understands that distinction, and someone who lives in D.C. probably doesn't have any reason to understand that distinction, but you'd think that before he inserts himself into an argument between the Attorney General of California and the Supreme Court of California that he would have taken just a little time to inform himself of the laws in that state?

Not only that, Jerry Brown's brief says that the revision process would have been fine for Prop 8:

Brown caveats his assertion to a limited degree. He notes that the question of whether there is a natural rights limit on revising the state constitution is not before the court. In other words, if proponents of a revision take it through the longer process, which includes approval by the legislature, then there would be no bar to curtailing even a fundamental or inalienable right. He also asserts that if a compelling justification existed, i.e. a curtailment was needed to further essential aspects of governmental power, perhaps the power to quarantine infectious persons during an epidemic, for example, that also would be permitted.

That Will doesn't understand California law is no surprise, and isn't that bad. But that he would mischaracterize Jerry Brown's argument, hyperbolically claiming that nothing could ever change the constitution if he's right, is just plain silly and should have been caught by the Washington Post's editors.

Then the perfesser gives a little history lesson:

In 2000, voters passed Proposition 22, enacting a law stipulating that marriage is a heterosexual relationship. Last May, California's Supreme Court struck down the law on the ground that there is no "compelling state interest" in not recognizing same-sex marriages under the constitutional clause guaranteeing "equal protection" of the laws. Opponents of same-sex marriage quickly gathered sufficient signatures to place on the November ballot the amendment to the constitution.

That simply isn't true. The signature-gathering process for Prop 8 (then known as the "Protect Marriage Initiative") started in 2007, and the right was finished by April. The court then decided in May, and the state began recognizing same-sex marriages in June.

It's a simple fact, which, again, the editors at the Washington Post should have caught, but it's not completely unimportant. Here's a bit more from George Will's column:

If, however, the conversation is truncated, as Brown urges, by judicial fiat, the argument will become as embittered as the argument about abortion has been by judicial highhandedness.

That myth about abortion, that Protestant fundamentalists were idle on the issue until Roe v. Wade was decided and then they sprang into action, is completely untrue. It's true that before Roe most conservative Protestants considered abortion a non-issue, something that concerned Catholics and not many others, but most Religious Right leaders didn't care about Roe either. Some even praised the decision.

It wasn't until several years after the decision that the Religious Right started caring about abortion, specifically because racial segregation began to lose its power to get people riled up against the government. It had nothing to do with the decision, but this myth is central to the way conservatives talk about abortion because it delegitimizes the process through which it was passed.

Which is why George Will fudged with the timeline concerning marriage in California - he wanted to make it seem like Prop 8 was part of the backlash against the California supreme court decision that found in favor of the gays. That way, it looks like the people who ran that ballot measure were more mad at judicial activism than they were just homophobic, and it allows them to paint themselves as victims.

Will also makes this claim which contradicts the rest of his column entirely:

Passing laws by referenda is an imprudent departure from the core principle of republican government -- representation: The people do not decide issues, they decide who shall decide. But the right of Californians to make laws through the direct democracy of referenda is as firmly established as it is promiscuously exercised.

Wait, I thought supreme court justices were appointed by the governor in California. Wouldn't that mean that they were appointed by an elected official, or, to borrow his language, the people didn't decide who sits on that court, they decided who should decide.

And isn't the whole point of the NCLR lawsuit that the state legislature should have approved Prop 8 before it went to the people because it took away a fundamental right? Using Will's words again, one of the suits here would have enforced the idea that the people do not decide issues, they decide who shall decide.

One would think that, based on that paragraph, that he would have written a column in support of the NCLR's lawsuit, instead of opposed to Jerry Brown's.

But logic isn't important here, since George Will, like any other homophobe, isn't comfortable with the idea of two dudes or two ladies getting hitched, and he's looking for any respectable reason to oppose it.

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Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | January 15, 2009 8:42 PM

Alex, before I go ahead and comment further, I note your criticsm of George Will for not reading more than a WorldNet Daily account of Attorney General Brown's 111 page brief, and would agree that I would be guilty of the same thing had I not undertaken that task. I just completed that rather exhausting task. Have you had occasion to do likewise?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 15, 2009 9:41 PM

Don, were you in my Evelyn Woods speed reading class at Purdue. Oh, that's right, I missed you by a few years. Rest your eyes! :)

Actually, I'm not criticizing Will for not having read the brief. There are many great fact-based commentaries out there that take different perspectives on it. I just mentioned WND because that seems to be the ideological perspective Will is coming from.

When it comes to me, I've read sections of the brief, including the part that Will is responding to: Brown's assertion of his "natural rights" argument. This is what puzzles me more; Brown's argument is perfectly libertarian/paleo-conservative in that he's arguing based on the principles of limited, constrained government, rights that exist outside the scope of government (but, unlike what Will implies, listed in the Constitution), and the framers' intent in putting together the referendum processes.

It would work perfectly with Will's stated worldview, which makes his dismissive rejection of the argument even more bizarre, if one takes homophobia out of the equation.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 15, 2009 11:42 PM

Well, we have a discredited Republican brand and a commentator who is dieing to fill Wm.F. Buckley's shoes.

He has to cling to something

Allan Brauer | January 16, 2009 1:13 AM

I loved him as Ralphie in A Christmas Story.

Scott Lassiter | January 16, 2009 7:29 AM

So let's I make decisions about intelligence, critical thinking skills and who to read for a good analysis I could go with Alex Blaze - someone who studied biology, with interests in queer theory, partying, and feminism. Or I could go with George Will - Pulitzer Prize winner, degrees from Oxford and Princeton, teacher of philosophy, writer of several best-sellers. I think there may be a credibility issue here......just saying.

Admit it. You'd go with Alex too; you just think Will is pretty. *grins*

I hope you would "go with" neither and think about these issues yourself. As always, what I write speaks for itself, and going to a certain school doesn't preclude dishonesty.

Unless, of course, you're asking us to believe that signatures for prop 8 were gathered after the supreme court decision. No matter what degree one holds, that doesn't magically become true.

Mr. Will seems to know a lot about baseball....

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | January 16, 2009 1:04 PM

Being either trained in biology or baseball or flipping fish sandwiches (sorry PETA, I'm not quite ready to call rename fish "sea kittens" although I do understand your point about why we treat some animals better than others), certainly isn't the sine qua non of one's qualifications to talk about issues of constitutional law and principles.

Whether or no one who seeks to do so gains instant credibility by captioning the discussion "George Will: lying, snooty homophobe" is another matter, but who am I to be a stodgy old fossil critical of new marketing techniques?

California Attorney General Jerry Brow's brief is long and arduous, but then most things of that ilk tend to be, and I would agree with Alex that for purposes of his points, only about the last 20% of the 111 pages need to be read and reasonably understood.

Will likely does miss the point, although I don't fault him as much because he's a predisposed in favor of going outside of the constitution as Alex (and I in the main) favor a "living constitution". I don't think, though, that taking a particular position concerning that rather either a liar or a homophobe, but I'll take "snooty" under advisement.

I read, like I think Alex does, Brown's brief as saying (aside from his assertion that even if Proposition 8 is constitutional, it doesn't operate retroactively) that when Californian's adopted their constitution, they specified two ways of changing it (revision and amendment), and were not all that good at specifying exactly what distinction was to be made between the two. Therefore, he says, he's looked at how the California Supreme Court has dealt with that question, and is even more confused. That's because some things one would think fit the definition of one have been held to be the other, and other decisions do just the opposite.

That leads him to say: (1) The petitioners (those fighting Prop 8...our "good guys" have failed to show that Prop 8 was a revision (requiring a more complicated procedure than for just a simple initiative-produced amendment). But then, rather than seeing the matter as "either-or", he says that what's involved is just too fundamental to let a simple 51% of the voters. So he lays out a sort of "third way", which Will appears to say goes outside of the four corners of constitutional text into the same Never-Never galaxy that has penumbras chasing each other. Will doesn't like that one snooty bit.

It is ironic, as Alex seems to note in a subsequent comment, that Will should have issues with "natural law" concepts that transcend government, but I think therein lies the real nub of Will's apparent lack of full understanding of Brown's point.

Although frankly he could have articulated it better, Brown is NOT depending on something predating or standing outside of the four corners of the California Constituion. To the contrary, he points to its initial section declaring certain rights, and says that the framers had such reverence for it that they didn't intend that the revision/amendment process specified later on should apply to it, at least not without doing some serious soul-searching ("strict scrutiny"). Although generally favorable to this kind of analysis, I cringed a lot....but I have to agree that the California Supreme Court was still interpreting the California Constitution, not going beyond it to Penumbra Palance.

I say I cringe because, whether we progressives like it of not, the average non-lawyer citizen sees this kind of thing as simply making up legal theory to support one's own opinion. There is a center betwen the thought of the "tyranny of the majority" on one side and "wide open judicial activism" on the other that is constantly in tension and probably always will be.

If my fellow progressive bloggers and readers take umbrage at that, I would only offer the following scenario as it might apply to our Federal Constition. What if, through the Amendment process (there's no California-style "amendment" vs. "revision" dichotomy in the U.S. Constitution), the Supreme Court's recent Heller decision were overturned by adding a sentence to the Second Amendment which said: "This amendment shall not be construed as establishing an individual right to bear arms in self-defense".

According to Brown's line or argument on Prop 8, it would be proper to argue that the Supreme Court (likely of a more "activist conservative" bent, or at least tending toward snootery....I understand reading too much of the Federalist Papers tends to do that to one) could look at the individual right to bear arms to be a fundamental one, do some balancing, and conclude that the amendment process simply was inapplicable to it.

I can hear the progressive cries against the Black-Robed Five now. And they don't stop at "liar", "snooty", or the NRA equivalent of "homophobe".

I agree largely, but I don't think that Brown's distinctions would work outside of the California constitution, so we don't have much to worry about at the federal level. For one thing, the statements of value he refers to are only in the Declaration of Independence, and there is no initiative process nationally. I read his argument more as an indictment of the latter, with his phrases about (paraphrasing, I don't want to load up the pdf) "The framers didn't intend the initiative process to dismantle the protections set forth in the declaration of rights...."

Although if the court finds no validity to Brown's argument, I'd be fine with that. I have no particular attachment to it. I just think that Will could have displayed a little more intellectual curiosity before responding to it.

The "liar" part was a reference to his historical revisionism when it comes to the prop 8 timeline in California, and unless someone could prove that up is down, that prop 8 was a direct response to the supreme court decision, I'm sticking to it.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | January 16, 2009 2:35 PM

It's of course true that Proposition 8 was started and I think already destined to be on the ballot before the Supreme Court announced its decision. Correct me on that if not the case, it may be that the last signatures or some kind of certification came afterward. In any event, it seems fair to say that Proposition 8 was filed in anticipation of a decision not favorable to its proponents. As I recally Brown did a pretty clever (and I think, legally correct) by insisting that the measure be described on the ballot as taking away marriage rights (which the Court had pronounced were already in the California Constitution) rather than simply reversing a decision and restoring what was supposedly already the "true" situation of no marriage equality. I'm not sure that his description is lying, but hey, if it makes you feel good to bash George Will, hance in my view cheapening the value of the word "lie", be my guest. We've been here before, haven't we?

It actually does make me feel good to bash George Will, as a matter of fact. But I don't see how that cheapens the definition of "lie." He says:

Last May, California's Supreme Court struck down the law on the ground that there is no "compelling state interest" in not recognizing same-sex marriages under the constitutional clause guaranteeing "equal protection" of the laws. Opponents of same-sex marriage quickly gathered sufficient signatures to place on the November ballot the amendment to the constitution.

They gathered the signatures, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, by April. They didn't start in May, after the decision.

He said something untrue for the purposes of misleading people into believing that there is more public rancor over "judicial activism" than there actually is, and to imply that the Religious Right in California wouldn't have been so upset if another process was taken, which we know isn't true because they'd be upset and start a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage even if it was passed through the legislature.

Which was probably more of a motivation to them, in California, considering that same-sex marriage passed the legislature there twice.

I don't see what's not a lie about that.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | January 16, 2009 4:59 PM

"He said something untrue for the purposes of misleading people into believing that there is more public rancor over "judicial activism" than there actually is, and to imply that the Religious Right in California wouldn't have been so upset if another process was taken, which we know isn't true because they'd be upset and start a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage even if it was passed through the legislature."

I guess that since you appear to have a direct channel into his mind and/or other indicia of deleberate and calculated deception, go for it.

I would prefer simply to speculate that he didn't have his facts correct.

Have you thought of trying to contact him and present your thoughts and see if he responds to you? It may not work at all, but more than once in my life I've pointed something to national columnists (Jeffrey Hart back in the 1970's and somebody else whose name now ecaptes me) and they've acknowledged the mistake. In neither case did they think it made a difference concerning their ultimate opinion.

I am not ready to throw George Will into the same group that Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, and their ilk make up. Will has written in the past some very cogent and incisive pieces on issues that are important to moderate to conservative audiences. I do not always agree with him, but I am not ready to start attacking him with Ad hominium arguments just yet.