The “Principled” Conservatism of George Will

George WillGeorge Will annoys me more than most conservative pundits. Most commentators on the right can be dismissed as ignorant dittoheads, but Will has a reputation—largely undeserved—as intelligent, knowledgeable, and even thoughtful. Worst of all, he has developed a great capacity to sound reasonable while he distracts and deceives.

This was on display, as always, on this morning’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos.

There is an argument that one of the reasons that the New Deal failed at its objective to put the country back to work—unemployment never came to 14% until we geared up to be the arsenal of democracy—was that capital went on strike as the senator [Rand Paul] says, because of uncertainty. But there is uncertainty surrounding the Romney-Ryan tax cut plan because they have not specified the deductions that would be closed. And we know where the big money is: mortgage interest deductions, charitable deductions, taxing as compensation—which it is—employer provided health insurance, and state and local taxes. All of those you either only hit the rich in which case you don’t get much money or you hit the middle class. [Bold mine -FM]

The discussion was about what deductions Romney would eliminate to offset his $5 trillion in tax cuts that heavily favor the wealthy. The Tax Policy Center has shown that there is no way that he can do this without making the middle class pay higher taxes. This is, as they say, an inconvenient truth. What is a movement conservative like George Will to do?

Using a well practiced trick, he simply obscures the debate with an irrelevant, but very reasonable sounding observation. He notes that most of the money to be gained through ending tax deductions must come from the middle class because it is such a large part of the economy. In the context of the argument, this only makes Romney’s plan look worse: of course he must pay for tax cuts for the rich with tax increases for the middle class! But Will manages to keep this conclusion at bay.

Instead, he uses the observation as rhetorical slight of hand (with the added benefit of being able to get in a quick attack on FDR). His argument is thus that we must raise taxes on the middle class because that’s where the money is. And if we fall for this presto-chango, and I dare say most people do, it is clear that we must raises taxes on the middle class. This wouldn’t be true even if the only way to raise revenue was to close tax deductions. We might, for example, close the tax deductions that primarily benefit the wealthy without simultaneously slashing their tax rates.

But this wasn’t even what the discussion was about. Can Romney close tax deductions of the rich to offset his tax cuts for the rich? No. But George Will doesn’t want us to know this, so he distracts us into thinking about where most of the tax deductions are in the current law. I would say that Ricky Jay ought to worry about George Will stealing his act, but there is a difference between conjuring and chicanery.

Ladies and gentlemen: “principled” conservative pundit George Will.

The whole discussion is worth watching. In particular, it is interesting that Senator Rand Paul did not know that government employment has gone down under Obama. Note how self satisfied he is in slipping this supposed fact into the debate. He is quite certain he has Krugman cold. The key lines are here:

Rand Paul: Are you arguing that there are fewer government employees under Obama than there were under Bush?

Paul Krugman: Of course. That’s a fact.

But that doesn’t stop Rand Paul. He follows with, “No, the size of growth of government is enormous under president Obama.” If he weren’t a Republican, it would be hard to believe. Here’s the whole video: