There’s nothing so sad as a political athlete who’s hung on for too long, particularly when they were 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 Never-Trumpers in the conservative political firmament — except 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.
It seems, alas, that Will’s tirades against the president are long past the point of diminishing returns.
So, what happens when kicking the lifeless equine of President Donald Trump’s foibles stops bearing the fruit of publicity? Well, you call out Vice President Mike Pence as a horrible human being, of course.
Mind you, that’s a difficult task. In a town where you can barely swing a hanging chad without hitting a fornicator, fabulist embezzler or craven opportunist, Pence has — from all outward appearances — lived his life with an extreme degree of biblical accountability and dedication to public service.
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 wrote. “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.”
Do you think George Will went too far?
So, what’s the evidence that Pence is some sort of oily weasel? 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. The idea that Pence’s act at the Indianapolis Colts game was premeditated seems to be a gospel truth for left. That hasn’t been established, but even if that was his intention, that’s his right as an American citizen — to walk out of a game that he assumedly paid money to attend.
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. 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, the government included serial groper (allegedly, cough cough) Al Franken. Let’s get a hold of ourselves.
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 this was 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 that Pence is the worst person in government could fit in a paragraph: 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. If you read between the empurpled prose, that’s more or less it.
And that’s apparently enough to make you the worst person in a government that has seen miscreants and bigots like Ted Kennedy, Wilber Mills, George Wallace, Anthony Weiner, Bob Packwood … the list goes on. Most of those have wormed their way out of government or are dead, 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 wouldn’t make the same hyperbolic mistake as Will did and call him the worst person in the media, but he’s not all that far off. His anti-Trumpism has clearly been a way for him to get himself back on the Sunday morning talk show circuit.
As for his take on Pence, it’s more or less red meat to the very people 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 woefully 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 act would have caught the attention 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, he 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 quite have the evidence necessary 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.”)
Yet, 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” become more clear: He’s unapologetically supportive of conservative causes and the president. In this day and age, that’s somehow beyond ghastly.
In the end, George Will’s article says a lot more about George Will than it does about Mike Pence or anyone in the Trump administration.
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