There’s nothing so sad as a political athlete who’s hung on for too long, particularly when he was a legend. And, much like Johnny Unitas on the 1973 San Diego Chargers, George Will’s recent output for The Washington Post evinces a similarly sorry display of someone who should have taken up angling a long, long time ago.
Will has tried to regain relevance by transmogrifying himself into one of the most visible critics of President Donald Trump in the conservative political firmament — except he’s not nearly visible enough. For all his invective against the Trump administration, he doesn’t even get mentioned alongside prominent Never-Trump figures like Bill Kristol, David Frum and Bret Stephens, despite his position as a pre-Reagan conservative superstar.
It seems, alas, that Will’s tirades against the president are long past the point of diminishing returns. So, what happens when beating the lifeless equine of Trump foibles stops bearing the fruit of publicity?
Well, you call out Vice President Mike Pence as a horrible human being, of course.
But in trying to take down Pence, Will set for himself a herculean task. In a town where you can barely swing a hanging chad without hitting a fornicator, fabulist, embezzler or craven opportunist, Pence has lived his life in the nation’s capital as a dedicated family man and humble public servant, placing his faith in Christ above all else.
Yet, according to a May 9 screed by Will — an alleged conservative — Pence is the “worst person in government.” Why? Well, he sticks to his principles, doesn’t think Joe Arpaio is a bad person and once praised Trump during a Cabinet meeting. A regular Richard Nixon, this Mike Pence.
In a piece titled “Trump is no longer the worst person in government,” Will lays out his case as to why a family man who hosts a Bible study in the White House is somehow worse than John Conyers, Eric Schneiderman, Peter Strzok, Lois Lerner or Maxine Waters.
“Donald Trump, with his feral cunning, knew,” Will portentously writes. “The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America’s most repulsive public figure. And Pence, who has reached this pinnacle by dethroning his benefactor, is augmenting the public stock of useful knowledge. Because his is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.”
So, what’s the evidence that the vice president is some sort of oily weasel who abandoned all principles to genuflect before the altar of The Donald? Well, uh, he participated in two Cabinet meetings in which prayers were offered and praise was given to Trump. Will notes that at one of these meetings, “Pence praised Trump once every 12 seconds for three minutes: ‘I’m deeply humbled.’ … Judging by the number of times Pence announces himself ‘humbled,’ he might seem proud of his humility, but that is impossible because he is conspicuously devout and pride is a sin.”
But it gets worse from there! And by worse, read more trivial.
“Between those two Cabinet meetings, Pence and his retinue flew to Indiana for the purpose of walking out of an Indianapolis Colts football game, thereby demonstrating that football players kneeling during the national anthem are intolerable to someone of Pence’s refined sense of right and wrong. Which brings us to his Arizona salute last week to Joe Arpaio, who was sheriff of Maricopa County until in 2016 voters wearied of his act.”
Several things here. First, the idea that Pence’s act at the Indianapolis Colts game was a premeditated photo-op seems to be a gospel truth for left even though it hasn’t been definitively established. However, even if that were his intention, that’s his right as an American citizen — to freely walk out of a game he freely walked into.
Unlike the anthem-kneeling players on the field that day, Pence wasn’t in the employ of either the Indianapolis Colts or San Francisco 49ers. So, exercising his freedom of speech to let America know what he felt about disrespecting the anthem makes him “the worst person in government?” Up until a few months ago, said government included serial groper (allegedly, cough cough) Al Franken. Conyers can still put “Rep.” before his name on his congressional stationery. Despite decades of dissipated behavior, Ted Kennedy held on to his congressional sinecure until he died, 40 years after Mary Jo Kopechne did. Let’s get a hold of ourselves, George.
And then there’s Arpaio, of whom Will has much to say: “Noting that Arpaio was in his Tempe audience, Pence, oozing unctuousness from every pore, called Arpaio ‘another favorite,’ professed himself ‘honored’ by Arpaio’s presence, and praised him as ‘a tireless champion of … the rule of law.'”
“Arpaio, a grandstanding, camera-chasing bully and darling of the thuggish right, is also a criminal, convicted of contempt of court for ignoring a federal judge’s order to desist from certain illegal law enforcement practices. Pence’s performance occurred eight miles from the home of Sen. John McCain, who could teach Pence — or perhaps not — something about honor.”
There’s a lot to unpack there. First, Arpaio is apparently a “bully and darling of the thuggish right” because he deigned to enforce immigration laws — remember those? — and make his detention facilities unpleasant. Voters may have “wearied of his act,” but only after a highly politicized holy jihad by the Department of Justice against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
As for John McCain teaching Pence a lesson in honor, I’ll just leave that one out there for summary judgement.
Will then pulled out a quote from Lincoln: “Let reverence for the laws … become the political religion of the nation.”
“Pence, one of evangelical Christians’ favorite pin-ups, genuflects at various altars, as the mobocratic spirit and the vicious portion require,” Will wrote.
“It is said that one cannot blame people who applaud Arpaio and support his rehabilitators (Trump, Pence, et al.), because, well, globalization or health-care costs or something. Actually, one must either blame them or condescend to them as lacking moral agency. Republicans silent about Pence have no such excuse,” Will concluded. “There will be negligible legislating by the next Congress, so ballots cast this November will be most important as validations or repudiations of the harmonizing voices of Trump, Pence, Arpaio and the like. Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.”
It’s probably most worth mentioning that the evidence provided that Pence is the worst person in government could fit in a paragraph if you eliminated the grandiloquent filler: He supports Joe Arpaio. He was at two meetings in which praise was offered to Trump. He walked out of a football game because players were kneeling during the national anthem. Minus all of the empurpled prose, that’s more or less it.
And that’s apparently enough to make the vice president the worst person in a government that has seen miscreants, roués and bigots like Patrick Kennedy, Wilber Mills, George Wallace, Anthony Weiner, Orville Faubus, Bob Packwood … the list goes on. Most of those have wormed their way out of government and/or passed on, but I don’t think that in any era, Pence would even be close to the worst person in the den of iniquity that is the District of Columbia.
I refuse to make the same hyperbolic mistake that Will did and call him the worst person in the media, but it wouldn’t necessarily be uncalled for. His reflexive anti-Trumpism is nothing more than a transparent way to get himself back on the Sunday morning talk show circuit to which he has become so accustomed to over the years.
As for his take on Pence, it’s simply red meat thrown to the very rabble who Will spent an entire career excoriating — but who’s counting nowadays? If James Comey can shoulder the blame for costing Hillary Clinton the election and then earn the unending support of the left mere months later, surely there’s still a rabbit or two remaining in that threadbare hat for Will to pull out.
However, after reading his piece, I’m still wholly confused as to why Pence is dishonorable. He remarked on his humility during a cabinet meeting? As opposed to what, saying how much better he was than everyone else? (Either position would have earned the ire of Will, mind you.) He supports Arpaio? So do millions of Americans. Are they the worst people at their respective jobs? He walked out of a Colts game because of anthem-kneeling? Apparently, the vice president has less freedom of speech than the players on the field do.
The rest of the piece is filled with colorful language that doesn’t have any evidence to back it up. It’s worth noting that dictionary searches for the word “oleaginous” went up 8,800 percent after the article was published, proof that Will at least has some readers left. (To save you some time, oleaginous is “unpleasantly and excessively suave or ingratiating in manner or speech” or “containing an unusual amount of grease or oil.” To quote Mandy Patankin in “The Princess Bride,” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”)
In other words, for all of the bluster, there isn’t much there.
Take out all of the unsupported, febrile ranting and the reason why Will says Pence is “the worst person in government” becomes clearer: He’s unapologetically supportive of conservative causes and the president he serves. In this day and age, that’s somehow beyond ghastly. When it’s stripped down to its core premises, George Will’s take on the vice president says a lot more about the suddenly-oleaginous George Will than it does about Mike Pence or anyone else in the Trump administration.
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