Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How To Use “Gainsaid” In A Sentence

Last week George F. Will lit into Elizabeth Warren for having the radical idea that rich people didn’t get their money all by themselves. His bow tie practically spun itself into a tizzy as he accused her of being a “collectivist” and all sorts of other rented John Birch Society epithets… all the while conceding that yes, she’s got a point.

This would be a rich field to plow, and E.J. Dionne, one of Mr. Will’s colleagues at the Washington Post, does a magnificent job of it.

There is absolutely nothing in Warren’s statement that implied a “collectivist political agenda.” Will simply ascribes one to her by quoting a book published 53 years ago, “The Affluent Society,” in which the economist John Kenneth Galbraith spoke of how corporate advertising could manipulate consumer preferences.

From this, Will concludes that liberals hold a series of terribly elitist beliefs and that by extension, Warren (who is, conveniently, a Harvard professor) does, too. Will’s straw liberal is supposedly committed to “the impossibility, for most people, of self-government”; “subordination of the bovine many to a regulatory government”; and a belief that government “owes minimal deference to people’s preferences.”

Well. On the one hand, this is a tour de force. My colleague has brought out his full rhetorical arsenal to beat back a statement that he grants upfront is so obviously true that it cannot be gainsaid. Will knows danger when he sees it.

Wait, it gets better.

Will, the philosopher, knows whereof Warren speaks because he has advanced arguments of his own that complement hers. In his thoughtful 1983 book “Statecraft as Soulcraft,” Will rightly lamented that America’s sense of community had become “thin gruel” and chided fellow conservatives “caught in the web of their careless anti-government rhetoric.” He is also the author of my favorite aphorism about how Americans admire effective government even when they pretend not to. “Americans talk like Jeffersonians,” Will wrote, “but expect to be governed by Hamiltonians.”

What I think irks Mr. Will the most — and Mr. Dionne enjoys — is that Ms. Warren has managed to make the case for liberalism using Mr. Will’s conservative philosophy. Harrumph!