I don't always
disagree with George Will. Some days—like
even understand him. His general point seems to be that John Edwards
doesn't understand two things: poverty and politics.
Will says there's been a paradigm shift in the way we understand
poverty, from a 1930s understanding to a modern understanding. This
sounds plausible, and if Will had stopped there, I might believe him.
But here's his new paradigm:
The new paradigm is of behavior-driven poverty that results from
individuals' nonmaterial deficits. It results from a scarcity of
certain habits and mores -- punctuality, hygiene, industriousness,
deferral of gratification, etc. -- that are not developed in
In the next sentence, Will manages to cite this idea and slight Edwards
all at once: "Edwards, who does not recognize the name James Q. Wilson,
may have missed this paradigm shift." Can I just admit here that I
didn't recognize the name James Q. Wilson? Will doesn't help me out
here, so I looked it up. I'll bet the reason Will didn't better
describe Wilson is that nearly every non-academic credit on his resume
comes from the Reagan or Bush administrations. Which makes sense,
seeing as how the new paradigm is essentially a gloss on "poor people
are their own damn fault." Republican, much?
Will's second point—that Edwards doesn't understand
politics—is actually a little funny. A pair of snippets of
Edwards quotes are pulled together to illustrate that the man thinks
that values and character are what people vote on in presidential
elections, and that the issues of the day are viewed by voters mostly
as an indication of the candidate's values. Will:
But the idea that the candidate's persona is primary and that issues
are secondary is a mistake made by some Democrats who yearn for another
John Kennedy. He was a talented but quite traditional politician whom
many Democrats wrongly remember as proving that charisma trumps
This is where the chuckle goes, folks. How far back to we really have
to go to find a president with unpopular policies and
outside-the-mainstream views who got elected based largely on swagger?
Can't we think of anybody?